Dr Michael Fay, Lecturer in Law, Keele University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
& Dr Yvonne Skipper, Lecturer in Psychology, Keele University (email@example.com)
We theorised that some students have a positive academic identity, they strongly feel that they are part of their University and School and feel that they belong to this community. We believe these students are likely to engage more with their course and seek help when they experience challenges, as they believe that they are a member of a community where members are supporting each other and learning together. They are therefore more likely to perform well in their course and also experience positive mental health. In contrast, those with a poor sense of academic identity may not feel that they belong to a community. This may lead to disengagement from their course, and to students being uncomfortable with seeking help when they need it. They may perform poorly on their course and experience poor mental health in a downward spiral. Therefore, we argue developing a positive academic identity may lead to positive behaviours such as help-seeking, an improved sense of community and, in turn, better mental health.
Identity and belonging are important for student mental health. Transitioning to Higher Education (HE) is a challenging step. One in four students experience poor mental health during their degree and poor mental health has been associated with increased likelihood of dropping out of university. Academic pressure is the main source of stress for students; six in ten experience levels of stress that interfere with their daily lives. Academic pressure is also a common theme in suicide among under 20s. However, support from others can reduce stress and ameliorate some of the negative effects of mental health issues. Indeed, many students report that support from peers is one of the main reasons they remain in HE. This therefore suggests that creating a strong community and support network could improve mental health across all students rather than focussing on individuals.
Our aspiration is therefore to encourage community approaches to mental health in the HE sector, through developing students’ academic identity and sense of belonging. Our preliminary surveys, conducted with undergraduate students studying Law or Psychology, showed that a greater sense of belonging to the academic community within a School can reduce stress by up to 30 per cent. Evidence also suggests that interventions promoting positive identities can help to treat mental health issues. However, existing mental health support at university does not engage with students’ developing academic identity as a way of promoting improved mental health. Instead mental health issues are seen as specific to individuals. Therefore, causes and solutions are also often treated at the individual level. Interventions which are delivered to all students rather than focussing on those ‘at risk’ are also more likely to lead to change in the community and therefore better outcomes for all.
If you would like to know more about “Why not me?”, you can contact Michael Fay (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Yvonne Skipper (email@example.com). This project is funded by a grant from the Society for Research in Higher Education.
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