Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students is undoubtedly a key strategic priority for higher education institutions in 2020. From the refreshed Universities UK Stepchange Framework to the nascent Australian University Mental Health Framework, the importance of a coherent, consistent approach to student mental health and wellbeing has arguably never been more evident. That’s why, in 2018, Epigeum set out to develop Being Well, Living Well, an online toolkit which would support students in managing their mental, physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing, which they could access anytime, anywhere. In this article, we bring together some of the toolkit’s contributors to reflect on its development process.Epigeum’s online training programmes are developed through a unique process of collaboration between world-class subject experts, partner institutions, and in-house specialists, and the Being Well, Living Well toolkit has benefited from the combined experiences, knowledge, and perspectives of a team of mental health experts, healthcare professionals, and university staff and students.
The Commissioning Editor
Senior Commissioning Editor Naomi Wilkinson kick-started the development of the toolkit, undertaking in-depth research to determine the proposed shape and scope of the resources, and approaching expert contributors to join the “development group” as advisors, authors, and reviewers:
The aim of ‘Being Well, Living Well’ was to provide the general student population with a complete wellbeing toolkit, taking a preventative approach, and providing essential information to encourage self-management of low-level issues and signposting to further sources of support. In turn, this would enable university support and counselling services to focus their attention on those students requiring additional support, especially those in crisis. I also hope that this toolkit will help to reach some of those students who would not ordinarily come forward for support, and generally to help students open up conversations about their wellbeing, whether that’s with their peers, university staff, or mental health professionals.
Naomi Wilkinson, Senior Commissioning Editor at Epigeum
The Lead Advisors
Dr Dominique Thompson and Dr Nicola Reavley became the project’s “Lead Advisors” to guide the development of two regional versions of the toolkit – one primarily designed for UK-based institutions, and one for Australia-based institutions. They played a key role in helping to shape the overarching vision for Being Well, Living Well, and facilitated collaboration and consensus throughout the development process:
I am a huge fan of collaboration and co-production – it is essential to work alongside those who might use the toolkit to keep it relevant. I have been delighted to share our progress and ideas with colleagues from all over the HE sector, and have fed their reflections and opinions back into the toolkit as it has developed. I have liaised widely with both staff and students to ensure that the course is relevant, up to date and meets the needs of 21st century students, and will be a valuable addition to their university learning experience, helping to keep them well, in challenging times.
Dominique Thompson, GP, student wellness consultant, and former director of University of Bristol Students’ Health Service, Lead Advisor
I think the collaborative approach is really worthwhile – in any process like this – 2 or 3 sets of eyes are better than one! Having multiple people input into materials helps to get diverse opinions and improves the quality of the final resource.
Nicola Reavley, Deputy Director of the Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, Lead Advisor
The Specialist Advisor
Bringing a unique level of insight into the challenges currently faced by university students, Nightline Association – the umbrella charity for all ‘Nightline’ services – has acted as a Specialist Advisor for the UK version of the toolkit, thoroughly reviewing all aspects of its resources:
We saw the role of “Specialist Advisor” for the ‘Being Well, Living Well’ toolkit as an opportunity for us to repurpose some of the skills and knowledge we have developed through our experiences in student mental health support into an alternative format, and to be able to assist in the development of tools which could assist our service users. We found the development process to be really insightful.
Nightline Association, Specialist Advisor
A number of higher education institutions collaborated on the development of Being Well, Living Well, feeding directly into the creation of the resources via a two-day workshop in May 2019, and an ongoing review process – all with a view to ensuring that the finished resources would truly meet the needs of their students upon publication:
My role has involved working with colleagues on getting the content to be the best it can be. Many eyes can spot more things and create a better outcome. I enjoyed the workshop – it’s always great to work alongside colleagues from other institutions with the same work focus as your own. In particular, I wanted to be sure that the toolkit would be relevant to the widest group of students possible. We educate such a diverse mix of students, so it was important to come up with something that addressed and included as many of those differences as possible.
Lesley O’Keefe, Deputy Director, Academic and Student Services at Brunel University, Development Group member
The Authors and Reviewers
The Being Well, Living Well toolkit is made up of 18 concise modules – each one developed by a renowned subject expert, and rigorously reviewed by a panel of university staff and students. Authors devised rich, interactive content, in line with an overarching pedagogical framework, and reviewers fed back on the treatment of the topic, choice of activities, and language used:
I have written and spoken quite a bit about student transitions, so when the invitation came to author this module I was very interested in being involved. […] I was particularly interested in giving feedback to help ensure that the content of the toolkit was accessible and inclusive in its approach, and also that it had a consistent tone across the different modules with all the different authors. It was fascinating seeing what all the other authors had been doing – there was such a lot of creativity. I think having lots of different authors is one of the strengths of the toolkit’s development, but the review process felt like an essential extra step to help bring all these disparate voices together in a unified whole.
Denise Meyer, Head of Wellbeing at the University of Portsmouth, author of the ‘Your Student Journey’ module, and content reviewer
I reviewed each aspect of the toolkit to determine its effectiveness and relevance for the Australian context. This included shifts in language as well as relevance in terms of the higher education context. It was also important to include Indigenous experiences, symbols, relevance and language as well as greater age, ability, and ethnic diversity – coming from a strong human rights and social justice perspective, my emphasis was on inclusion. 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.
Dawn Darlaston-Jones, Co-ordinator, Behavioural Science at University of Notre Dame, content reviewer
The student voice has been integral to the development of the toolkit. As well as featuring video interviews with, and quotes from, students, Being Well, Living Well has benefited from the input of a panel of highly engaged and enthusiastic student reviewers, each one committed to delivering authentic, relevant, and non-judgemental learning experiences:
Working on ‘Being Well, Living Well’ was a very interesting experience. It’s wonderful to know that everyone on the project is genuinely dedicated to help improve student mental health, and that input from student users is valued. As a student reviewer, I never felt out of place when sat on a roundtable discussion between esteemed educators and mental health experts. Rather, everyone was open to students’ opinions during every step, from reviewing module drafts, to trying out the toolkit in its alpha stage. Having a sample of reviewers who have freshly had, or are going through, their university experience means that they can offer comments that are the most up-to-date, and most in line with the recent issues of being in university. And with university life always changing, it is important to have those insights being contributed to the project.
Angus Leung, University of Edinburgh, student reviewer
It is critical to receive input from the target group in the development of resources intended for their use. My main focus when reviewing ‘Being Well, Living Well’ was to ensure that there was no hint of judgement in the tone of the toolkit, as I believe feeling judged is not something that will help students, or anyone else for that matter, take in and accept information. Moreover, I wanted to ensure that the examples or situations discussed are as realistic as possible. When it comes to sex, drug and alcohol education, anti-drug projects, and sex education projects implemented in school have a tendency to be very black and white. In reality, situations tend to be more grey rather than black and white and one’s moral compass will be challenged repeatedly in life, especially when growing up and gaining independence.
Alice Nynabb, University of Aberdeen, student reviewer
The UK version of Being Well, Living Well is now available for subscription, and the Australian version will publish in August 2020. To find out more about the toolkit, and to request trial access for your institution, please visit www.epigeum.com/being-well-living-well or email email@example.com.