A ‘whole university’ approach to improving student mental health and wellbeing
: mixed-methods evaluation of a new university wellbeing service

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


There has been increasing concern for the mental health and wellbeing of higher education students in the last decade with greater numbers seeking support during their studies. Robust evidence for both the scale of the issue and support services that work for a ‘whole university’ student population is very limited. This research examines the impact of a £1 million investment in new student wellbeing services at one large UK university in 2018, which saw a step-change in student support delivery and the addition of ~40 wellbeing advisers.

I used a mixed-methods convergent research design to examine population mental health and help-seeking trends using student wellbeing surveys (>8,000) before and after the new services were introduced. I collected service-use data at two time points in the first eighteen months of service operation (>600) and examined trends in other student wellbeing indicators such as student counselling volumes and course withdrawal rates across a five-year period from 2014-2019. I also investigated the ‘lived-experience’ of students and staff studying and working at the university in forty focus groups and interviews (n=120 participants).

The new services appeared to offer timely, low-intensity wellbeing and mental health support for an increased number of students, providing an accessible alternative to academic, clinical and online support. The services launch and ongoing communications were a vehicle for changing institutional mental health narrative from ‘long wait times’ and ‘lack of care’ to ‘confidence in finding help’ and there was evidence of an improvement in population wellbeing and anxiety levels. However, there were ongoing challenges for information sharing and added concern over the sustainability of the model. Importantly, particularly for the services in student accommodation, the demand for student support appeared to compromise the new teams’ community-building and prevention effort, with potential consequences for downstream wellbeing issues.
Date of Award24 Jan 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorDavid Gunnell (Supervisor), Judi L Kidger (Supervisor) & Claire M A Haworth (Supervisor)


  • university
  • mental health
  • wellbeing
  • students
  • support services
  • student accommodation
  • whole university

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