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Why we developed this strategy

Supporting our students and staff with their mental health and wellbeing is a hugely important part of all we do.

We are aware of an increase in the number of students disclosing mental health issues in recent years and in the 2017/18 academic year, 38% of students who declared a disability made specific reference to mental health difficulties. Given that one in four adults will experience mental ill-health at some point in their life, we are also acutely aware that this is more than likely an under-representation of the actual number of students studying with mental ill-health. For this reason, we have invested in additional mental health specialist staff, introduced mental health champions and are in the process of rolling out a programme of mental health first aiders across the University.

Insight from staff records on sickness absence, occupational health referrals, uptake levels of our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) along with staff survey feedback reveals that mental health is a recurring and important theme for our staff. For example, in the 2017/18 academic year, 60% of calls to the EAP were mental health related. In the same period, 21% of total sickness absence was due to stress, anxiety or depression, while 35% of the 347 occupational health referrals made were related to mental health.

For these reasons, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our students and staff is a priority area for the University and something we seek to improve and this is why we have developed our Student and Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy, in line with the Universities UK (2017) #stepchange framework for mental health in higher education.

As the OU operates across the four nations of the UK as well as internationally, we have a responsibility to respond equally to the requirements of all four nations’ governing bodies.

  • In England, the Office for Students has identified mental health as a priority and challenges higher education providers to consider how they support students’ mental health and wellbeing through their Access and Participation Plans. Additionally, the Office for Students is developing ways to incentivise universities to enhance their work in mental health and wellbeing.
  • In Northern Ireland, improving mental health is identified as a key indicator in the draft Programme for Government for the Northern Ireland Executive. The expectation is that those in the higher education sector will need to demonstrate how they are actively contributing to achieve this.
  • The Scottish Programme for Government proposes a radical reform of the way mental ill-health is responded to and treated. As part of this work, the government has asked the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to oversee the development of institutional strategies for mental health. These strategies will include a commitment to work with the Students’ Association to develop a ‘Student Mental Health Agreement’, by signing up to Think Positive (a Scottish Government funded student mental health project at the National Union of Students Scotland).
  • The Welsh Government has made clear its commitment to a ‘whole system’ approach to mental health and wellbeing through the Healthy Universities framework. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has developed a ‘Wellbeing and Health in Higher Education Policy Statement’ that comprises high-level actions to support wellbeing and health, including mental health. Individual, co-created action plans will be published separately, contributing to the policy statement’s delivery across Wales.