Last December, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) set out a new mental health strategy, trailblazing the way towards better support for students.
This new approach was spearheaded by Professor Steve West at UWE Bristol, a leading figure in calling for fresh thinking on student mental health.
In his position as Chair of Universities UK’s Working Group on Mental Health, Professor West has been vocal in describing the need to take a holistic approach, recognising that changing attitudes towards mental health, tuition fees, living costs, a tough jobs market and the impact of social media are all factors that previous generations of students did not have to contend with.
Professor West: “We have recognised the answer isn’t just putting more and more counsellors or resources in. We have to find a different way of managing this.”
This changing environment and the changing needs and expectations of students is reflected in an important new component of UWE Bristol’s ‘mental wealth’ student welfare package: year-round digital therapy and support.
The launch of Kooth Student, XenZone’s online counselling and emotional wellbeing support service, into its 200+ different services and activities was an incredibly important step for the University. It underlined Professor West’s assertion that the mental health crisis at universities would not be resolved by simply hiring more counsellors. It was time to look deeper and offer young people choice, and more flexible ways of getting help, in and out of term time.
According to Simon Phillips, Deputy Director of Student & Academic Services (Student Support & Wellbeing) at UWE Bristol, “We are determined to provide the right mix of help for anyone at UWE Bristol who needs mental health support. Digital is a must: young people spend a good deal of their time online and want something flexible and available out of hours, in and out of term-time. Kooth Student offers anonymous year-round support which is imperative for encouraging students to get help from professional therapists without fear of stigma. It gives them the freedom to share their feelings and concerns.”
One student at the University spoke about her experience with Kooth Student: “I wasn’t sure how I could really build any therapeutic relationship with someone who I’ve never met. But it’s surprised me that I actually have. Being able to write it down is a lot easier because sometimes I find it difficult to say what I’m feeling.”
After a year working with UWE Bristol students, Kooth Student has seen almost 5,000 log-ins to the service, with 65% of those being out of office hours (9am – 5pm) and almost one in five being outside term-time. There have been more than 470 one to one text chat sessions and over 2,500 message counselling interactions with Kooth Student counsellors.
22% of students registering identified as black or minority ethnic (BME) showing how online services can help to support typically harder-to-reach groups.
Students are able to set personal goals on Kooth Student, tracking progress against each by marking them out of ten. Over the year, there was significant average goal movement (towards completion) of 7.6 points.
Most students who chose to book or drop-in for a chat with counsellors presented with issues around anxiety and stress. Other prominent issues were depression, self-worth, confidence and relationships.
Importantly, 95% of students responding to our end-of-session questionnaire said they would recommend Kooth Student to a friend.
Data in summary
Commenting on the Kooth Student service at UWE Bristol, Elaine Bousfield, XenZone’s founder and chair, said: “Not everyone’s experience at university is positive; young people can struggle being away from home and away from the support structures they’re used to. Many feel ongoing financial pressure and anxiety around their academic performance. It’s vital that we offer students a choice of services in and out of term time so that they can get support in a way that suits them – and the earlier the better. Digital support is essential. We’re pleased to be part of UWE Bristol’s holistic approach to student mental health.”
Simon Phillips: “We’ve been impressed with the take-up of Kooth Student, which shows us how important a digital component to mental health support is. We look forward to working with XenZone to support more students in our care and to seeing a continued positive step change in the way support is sought and delivered.”