Portsmouth to share in £1.5m funding to support mental health and wellbeing of PGR students

The mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research (PGR) students is to be enhanced through a new project, led by the University of Portsmouth, which aims to increase students’ knowledge of mental health issues and to provide additional support networks.

The project, run by Dr Jane Creaton, Associate Dean (Academic) and Reader in Higher Education at the University of Portsmouth has been awarded £150,000 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The funding is part of the £1.5million Catalyst Fund programme that has been awarded to 17 universities in England.

Dr Creaton said: “This project provides the opportunity to make a real difference to the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students. This funding will enable us to support individual students but also to tackle some aspects of institutional culture which are detrimental to students undertaking PhDs and other research degrees.”

There has been increasing attention paid to a growing mental health crisis in undergraduate students, but recent research found that more than half of 3,659 PhD students surveyed experienced symptoms of psychological distress and 32 per cent were found to be at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. The reasons include: social isolation and the lack of an established support network and reliance on a supervisor for pastoral and academic support.

The project aims to improve knowledge of mental health issues in PGR students and their supervisors, so that students are more likely to seek help that they need. The project will also use group mentoring to increase social interactions and online resources to enhance induction and training for students and relevant staff. By embedding mental health resources, training and mentoring in PGR programmes, the aim is to reduce stigmatisation and provide the opportunity for all PGR students to access and appropriate support for mental health and wellbeing.

HEFCE Chief Executive, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said: “This programme to develop extra support for postgraduate research students is timely, and complements the resources HEFCE already provides to support student safeguarding and to address barriers to student success.

“We are delighted to support these innovative projects in the important area of mental health and wellbeing, and look forward to successful outcomes and the sharing of good practice for the benefit of all postgraduate research students.”

Dr Creaton and co-investigators Dr Karen-Heard Laureote, Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Paul Gorczynski will work with colleagues from project partner Leeds Beckett University to support over 1,000 students from the two institutions. Dr Darren van Laar and Dr Heather McKenzie from the Graduate School and Denise Meyer, Head of Wellbeing will also be involved in the project.

The study starts on 1 April 2018 and runs until January 2021.

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