New funding for student mental health intervention research

Issued: Tue, 30 Jun 2020 07:00:13 BST

A University of Glasgow research project which aims to explore how postgraduate research students’ mental health can best be supported by their supervisors has received funding from the Student Mental Health Research Network (SMaRteN).
 
Dr Maria Gardani from the School of Psychology is leading one of seven teams of UK academics who will share in the £77k award from the UKRI-funded, King’s College London-led network. Each of the projects are focused on understanding what non-clinical and universal approaches to student mental health can achieve.
 
Funding was allocated through a competitive process and all applications were reviewed and assessed by members of the student research team as well as academic researchers.
 
Dr Gardani’s project is titled ‘SUpervisory role in Postgraduate ExpeRience: a mental health perspective (SUPER)’.
 
She said: “We’re delighted to have received this funding from SMaRteN ro examine how support for the mental wellbeing of postgraduate research students (PGRs) can be better-supported.
 
“Current research into postgraduate experience shows that PGRs who report a mental health difficulties feel less satisfied about their life-work balance and their lives in general. However, they are often reluctant to discuss their issues with their supervisor, either for fear of being judged negatively or reluctance to burden their supervisors with non-academic issues.  
 
“In many ways, though, supervisors are uniquely well-positioned to help their PGRs. They are often the sole providers of learning, guidance and support during postgraduate research training. With the proper training and experience, they could offer information and support on mental health, and provide access to relevant support services.
 
“Our new project will use existing findings and a collaborative approach with students and staff to improve the newly built platform Supervisor Training Hub that aims to enhance supervisors’ skills and confidence in reducing student distress.”
 
Dr Gardani’s project was funded as part of SMaRteN’s Spring 2020 funding call, titled ‘What can non-clinical approaches to student mental health achieve?'
 
The UK higher education is seeing a welcome shift towards whole-institution approaches. For example, the University Mental Health Charter, encourages universities to implement a whole university settings-based approach to improving mental health and concentrates on positive health rather than the absence of ill-health. The aim is to create supportive environments and processes enabling all the university community to engage creatively to work towards better mental health.
 
This change in approach is urgently needed; the sector is reporting a mental health crisis, with increasing concern for student mental health. Provision of reactive and individual services cannot keep pace with increases in demand and has been criticised for being too individualistic and ignoring the structural and cultural processes that influence mental health.
 
While a change in approach is needed, there are substantive gaps in the research around the non-clinical and universal approaches to student mental health. The recent review of reviews published by What Works Wellbeing noted that while there has been much research into individualistic interventions, there is a serious gap in data for more universal approaches in universities.
 
Dr Gardani will lead the University of Glasgow’s project, along with Dr Naomi White and Ms Jelena Milicev. They will be supported by Dr Elizabeth Adams, Dr Breda Cullen, Dr Vassiliki Kolokotroni and Prof Stephany Biello.

Full details of funded projects are available here.