Medical cultural anthropology
While studying veterinary medicine in France, I developed a strong interest in medical anthropology, based in an understanding that the health and disease of humans and other animals are constructed, debated and politicised notions. This is why, after my training as a veterinarian epidemiologist, I further explored the social dimensions of global public health issues and interventions. This was done through a project in Thailand, researching village-based social networks around poultry disease surveillance. I then worked on worldwide knowledge flows in collaborative research on Nipah virus (a virus transmitted to people by bats) for my master’s degree in Science Policy.
Universities are starting to run surveys to monitor the wellbeing of their student populations. These are powerful resources that will enable us, in time, to test whether student mental health is changing. For example, whether a current cohort of students are more likely than previous ones at a particular institution to be anxious or depressed. The data could also be used to track student trajectories as they progress through their university years, allowing interventions to be targeted at times and groups of greatest need.
"But we’re lecturers, not therapists!”
In my area of work, I encounter this objection on a fairly regular basis and my response is always the same. Trying to turn lecturers into therapists is not my goal; this would be neither effective as teaching nor therapy. I have now come to expect, accept and understand the reasons behind this misplaced fear. I even enjoy encountering this response, as it opens up a space in which to discuss ‘how things are done around here’ and to revisit our objectives as educators.
To ensure student mental health research is focused on the issues that matter to students, it is crucial that students themselves have an active rather than passive involvement in research. As such, our research project was participatory in nature, putting myself and three other Royal Holloway students with lived experiences at the centre of the research, under the guidance of Dr Eilidh Cage.
I am a clinical psychologist by training and am interested in the individual and societal impact of disordered eating (principally, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder). These illnesses are characterised by disturbances in eating behaviour and are associated with high levels of functional impairment and comorbidity with other mental disorders.
As a first year PhD student, jointly funded by the ESRC and MRC, I examining how financial, sociodemographic, and university-related factors may be associated with the mental health of students. In particular, I will measure students’ financial situation, including amount of debt, income, and stress about their finances; demographic variables such as ethnicity and sexual minority status; and characteristics of the university experience such as degree subject, accommodation type and workload. I will look at the relationship between these variables and symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the consequences on academic and help-seeking outcomes.
SMaRteN has just announced its first funding call. We’re looking to support researchers in answering the question what is distinctive about student mental health?
Give it a little thought and you’ll soon find that there are many ways of interpreting this question and many methods that could be applied to answering it. In this blog post, I’d like to talk about one way of looking at the problem – through the lens of economics.
Economics is about understanding how people and organisations make decisions, and what the consequences of those decisions might be. Often, this comes down to weighing up the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action. Here are just a few examples of the types of questions that get economists thinking.
Many staff members at universities are likely to have come across the ‘Perfectionist Student’, or even, the ‘Procrastinating Student’: too fearful to start or submit work they do not believe is ‘good enough’ because it is not quite ‘perfect’. These students frequently struggle with high levels of worry and anxiety and are repeatedly failing to reach their potential because of their over-reliance on achieving their high standards and maladaptive coping strategies.
Ms Samantha Ahern, Digital Education Project Officer, UCL
I am currently under taking a research project to address the question: ‘What synergies or conflicts exist between current HEI Learning Analytics and student wellbeing polices?’. I aim to identify what synergies or conflicts exist between current learning analytics and student wellbeing policies, potentially produce some recommendations on how these services could be better aligned.
'Prioritising student mental health is non-negotiable’ - Sam Gyimah, UK Universities minister
In the highest levels of government, university boardrooms, and across every broadsheet and tabloid, student mental health has arguably become the biggest issue facing universities today. As a new PhD researcher investigating student wellbeing, that’s a challenging context. There are lots of unknowns.
Bristol University has commissioned my scholarship, with Professor David Gunnell (self-harm and suicide), Dr Claire Haworth (population mental health data), and Dr Judi Kidger (mental health in education) at the helm. When it comes to supporting the wellbeing and mental health of its student population, Bristol is not alone in the issues it faces. The BBC recently published data from 162 (of a total of 163) UK universities, showing a 53% increase in the overall numbers of students seeking help in the last five years.
We are using this blog to help connect stakeholders across Higher Education interested in student mental health. If you have a project you are working on or an idea you'd like to develop, why not write your own blog post for us?