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SMaRteN-ing up about student mental health: U-DOC invited to the research network pre-launch event

Dr Clio Berry, co-research lead for the Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers project

6 September marked the launch of SMaRteN - a new research network being led by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) in London which aims to improve our understandings of student mental health. SMaRteN involves researchers and key stakeholders across the higher education sector in order to support collaboration and ensure ideas and data (where appropriate) are shared in order to strengthen research and impact.

SMaRteN is one of eight new mental health research networks announced yesterday by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Other networks include the e-Nurture Network led by Professor Gordon Harold at the University of Sussex.

Dr Clio Berry, co-research lead for the Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers (U-DOC) project at Sussex, was invited by SMaRteN network leader Dr Nicola Byrom and Rachel Piper of Student Minds to attend a pre-launch event in July 2018 at IoPPN, and shares her reflections:

"I was delighted to attend a pre-network student mental health day at the architecturally beautiful Guy's campus in July. 

"It was so inspiring to be gathered with Nicola, Rachel and an amazing group of new colleagues from across the UK representing student mental health policy, research, student services, and NHS mental health services - and with a strong and clear shared focus on increasing our understandings of and improving our responses to student mental health.

"The day was such a great introduction to the amazing pockets of research and practice in the sector and also to the big dreams of all involved for the not too distant future. Much of the focus was on undergraduate students but with postgraduate taught and research students getting a key mention; not least in the sneak peek of U-DOC work I presented to the group. 

"Some key themes across the day included a focus on what we can do with what we have - thinking about what we could explore with data collected by student services, in broader university administrative systems, and even in large national cohort and longitudinal cohort surveys. Much thought was also given to policy issues and provision of support - considering experiences of academic staff in managing student mental health disclosures, university policies regarding student suicide, effectiveness of student support and counselling services, and provision of student services from NHS clinicians. There was a key focus also on social aspects - the importance of student social identities and group memberships, social support and peer interactions; all things we will try and explore in relation to doctoral researchers specifically in the U-DOC survey!

"There was also a sense of needing to balance the broad and inclusive versus the narrow and specific - thinking about LGBTQ+ inclusivity, thinking about physical in addition to mental health, thinking about using new mediums such as graphic novels in order to tell the stories of student mental health, and thinking about transitions from university to the wider workplace, but focusing in on some narrow populations of specific interest such as nursing students and PGRs. 

"With respect to doctoral researchers in particular, I presented some initial thoughts and an update on the status of our online PGR mental health survey and another catalyst project researcher presented some ideas about resources to support PGR mental health and wellbeing. 

"With an incredible group leading and advising the network, SMaRteN will no doubt evolve over the next few years and continue to give rise to some incredibly high-quality, innovative and impactful research and events. It's so exciting for us here at the University of Sussex to be involved in this network and also to be able to contribute our increasing knowledge regarding the mental health and wellbeing of doctoral researchers.

"I encourage everyone with an interest in student mental health to get involved and SMaRteN up about student mental health - and watch this space for more news on PGR mental health from us at the U-DOC project too."

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By: Laura Chapman
Last updated: Wednesday, 3 October 2018