We have recently published Being Well, Living Well, an online toolkit developed in collaboration with mental health experts, healthcare professionals, and university students and staff, with the aim of helping students to manage their mental, physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing throughout their university journey. In this article, we explore some of the key benefits of taking an online approach to wellbeing support – drawing on insights from some of the contributors who collaborated on the development of the toolkit.
Flexibility: Deliver support that students can access whenever and wherever they face a wellbeing issue
Taking a positive, preventative approach to managing wellbeing relies on being equipped to face challenges as and when they present themselves. Students’ academic and personal lives are all different, so students need to be able to access a baseline of support anytime, anywhere. Student reviewer Angus Leung explains that “with a lot of university teaching now involving online resources, having student wellbeing materials also online makes it easier for students to seek assistance when they need it. The flexibility Being Well, Living Well provides helps the user pinpoint and control what resources they want, at what time, in what format.” That flexibility is key to the toolkit’s modular structure, which allows students to dip in and out of a broad range of key concepts and content, according to their unique needs and schedule.
Providing access to this resource also supports institutions in taking a ‘whole-institution’ approach to student wellbeing – complementing existing in-person wellbeing initiatives, such as university counselling services, drop-in sessions, and events, by providing support when these are not available. Tania Willis, Director of Student Equity at the Australian National University (ANU), and a member of the toolkit’s Development Group, comments that “the online format allows us to be able to scale up support information, and reach more students when they want it and how they want it”.
Inclusivity: Ensure that students have access to relevant, relatable wellbeing resources
Truly accessible wellbeing resources should also reflect the diversity of the student community, and a key benefit of an online resource like Being Well, Living Well is its ability to provide a more personalised learning experience via scenario-based activities, opportunities to select the content that feels most relevant, and customisable action plans. For Dr Dominique Thompson, Student Wellness Consultant, former Director of the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service, and a Lead Advisor for Being Well, Living Well, inclusivity was key to the toolkit’s development: “Great care has been taken to ensure that the toolkit is not limited in its appeal, or relevance, so that students from all sorts of backgrounds will use and value it”.
Throughout the toolkit, diverse student experiences have been represented in the comic strips, animations, and scenarios, which integrate a wide range of characters from diverse backgrounds. Dawn Darlaston-Jones, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science at University of Notre Dame, and reviewer of the Australian version of Being Well, Living Well, adds that “For a student coming into the university space from a non-traditional background, being able to see that their experience is captured in all aspects of university life is a key element of their satisfaction and their ability to progress through their program of study. This applies to the policies, practice, language, curriculum and the various support services offered”.
Privacy: Allow students to face wellbeing challenges in their own ‘safe space’
Students could face wellbeing challenges in every part of their academic and personal lives, and online support resources are able to provide information and guidance that they can access privately and in their own time. Nicola Reavley, Associate Professor, Deputy Director of the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, and a Lead Advisor for Being Well, Living Well, comments that “people can access the toolkit’s resources in their own time and particularly for more sensitive topics, there is lots of evidence that young people often like to explore online options – at least as a first step”. Being Well, Living Well can therefore act as a first point of support for students – encouraging them to seek further support if needed through the use of regular signposting.
Furthermore, institutions can provide access to Being Well, Living Well to all new and pre-arrival students, reaching them before their first contact with campus-based initiatives. On this point, Tania Willis adds that “students can often be so overwhelmed with information during their first few weeks and they often miss important elements that can assist them during their studies. The digital format helps them to be able to engage with the content at their own pace but more importantly when and as they need information”. The online toolkit can complement an institution’s in-person services to provide students with a variety of ways to access wellbeing support.
Engagement: Help students to make the most of wellbeing support resources
Being Well, Living Well can enhance in-person initiatives, enabling institutions to maximise and monitor engagement across all touchpoints. A set of core learning outcomes are listed as part of the toolkit’s accompanying ‘Instructor Manual’, which also provides ideas for workshop sessions and discussion topics, to assist institutions in taking a blended approach to wellbeing support. The learning outcomes direct the content and design of the modules, and are underpinned by a sophisticated pedagogical framework, ensuring students are given opportunities for knowledge gain, reflection, and personalisation.
Dawn Darlaston-Jones reflects that the toolkit’s content “isn’t ‘text heavy’ but at the same time avoids being overly simplistic and superficial. The inclusion of additional resources for each of the elements provides users with the ability to explore beyond the tools themselves and to connect with more detailed or extensive resources. This is a far more effective approach as it allows each of the modules to be relatively quick to read/use/digest while still offering substantial assistance”.
Being Well, Living Well can also help institutions to monitor engagement with, and the efficacy of, student wellbeing initiatives, with administrators utilising the reporting tools of the Epigeum platform or their university’s Learning Management System, depending on how where choose to host the toolkit.
Accessibility: Provide support that meets the needs of the wider student community
Delivering wellbeing resources in an online format enables institutions to maximise the accessibility of content. As the Senior Commissioning Editor for Being Well, Living Well , Naomi Wilkinson, explains, “By working with our in-house team of experts and an external accessibility advisor, we were able to ensure that the content of the toolkit is as user-friendly as possible. Every screen can be viewed in plain text and printed out, and the video animations and student interviews are accompanied by full transcripts. The toolkit can be viewed on any device, and is compatible with accessibility software.”
Dr Dominique Thompson concludes that “the next generation of students and their families will expect mental health and wellbeing to be part of the holistic offer of support from all universities. Alongside their academic education, students will expect to have their wellbeing education developed and informed”. Providing this support in an online format enables institutions to take a consistent, preventative approach to student wellbeing, efficiently scaling up support to reach the whole student community with inclusive, engaging, and accessible resources that provide a first point of support throughout every stage of their university journey.
The UK and Australian versions of the Being Well, Living Well online toolkit are now available for trial and subscription. For more information, and to request free trial access for your institution, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website using the buttons below.