The Wellbeing Centre provides information and guidance to help students look after their wellbeing during their time at University.


Student Wellbeing

Recent Submissions

  • Transition distress: a psychological process

    Hughes, Gareth; University of Derby (BACP, 2016-09-01)
    It will come as no surprise to anybody working within higher education, that many students find the transition into university emotionally and psychologically difficult. We clearly understand that students going through transition can experience psychological distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, a reduction in self-esteem and isolation.1–5 Many students describe a loss of feelings of control, and doubts about whether or not to stay at their new university. This is particularly concerning for universities, as research has identified that successful transition is a key element in determining retention and future student success.6–10 While most of us probably recognise all of this, there is often less understanding about why some students find transition so difficult, and more importantly, what we can do about it. In the last few years, I and my colleagues in Student Wellbeing at the University of Derby have been researching student transition in order to develop better interventions to support new students. Our research, and the research of many others in the field, suggests that we may need to rethink some of the ways in which we approach transition, if we want to provide our students with the most effective support. In this article, I briefly describe some of our work so far (some of which has been published and presented elsewhere), and propose a new model of transition. I do this with one important caveat. As George Box said: ‘All models are wrong, but some models are useful.’11 I don’t pretend that this model encapsulates every single student’s experience but I hope it may provide a useful way of thinking about what our students may be experiencing, how we can target our support and how this learning can be used to good effect in the therapy room.
  • Student perspectives on improving mental health support services at university

    Priestley, Michael; Broglia, Emma; Hughes, Gareth; Spanner, Leigh; Durham University; University of Sheffield; University of Derby; Student Minds, Leeds (Wiley, 2021-02-08)
    Drawing on thematic analysis of six student co-creation panels, conducted during the Student Minds University Mental Health Charter consultations, this paper elucidates students’ perspectives and proposals regarding the current issues and challenges around university student mental health and well-being support services. In particular, panels identified existing challenges and opportunities to improve support service access, strategy, and delivery. The panels generated a series of recommendations aimed to establish a clear, coordinated, and strategic approach to delivering accessible and inclusive student mental health support services that are responsive to the diverse needs of the whole student population. Significantly, the student panels situated service reforms within a ‘whole university approach’ entailing holistic structural and cultural change to the university environment, in order to enrich student mental health and well-being and reduce demand on services. The findings of this paper can both reaffirm and specify the principles of good practice propounded by the University Mental Health Charter from a student perspective.
  • The Challenge of Student Mental Well-Being: Reconnecting Students Services with the Academic Universe

    Hughes, Gareth; University of Derby (Springer, 2021-03-22)
    Current dialogues in the Higher Education sector highlight a range of tensions and uncertainties about university responses to student mental health that potentially contribute to a lack of clarity about the role of Student Services and institutions. These dialogues suggest that there is a need for theory which can seek to answer the following four central questions: 1. What role should universities and Student Services play in relation to student mental health and well-being? 2. What balance of proactive and reactive responses should universities adopt? 3. If institutions are to adopt a “whole university approach,” what should the role of Student Services be within this approach? 4. How closely positioned should Student Services be to core university missions and the academic universe? This chapter explores these issues and proposes a conceptual model for Student Services’ responses to well-being and learning, arguing for the adoption of a research, practice, and teaching model to ensure better collaboration between academic and professional staff and closer integration of well-being and learning. Using practical examples and clinical evidence, it argues that well-being services should be based on developmental rather than deficiency-based models of practice and that well-being interventions should include support for academic learning.
  • Which aspects of university life are most and least helpful in the transition to HE? A qualitative snapshot of student perceptions

    Hughes, Gareth; Smail, Olivia; University of Derby (Informa UK Limited, 2014-12-12)
    Whilst there is a significant consensus, in the literature, that student transition to HE plays a major role in future academic performance and success, there is, as yet, no broad agreement as to how best to support students during this process. Theoretical accounts of transition offer some direction to educators but acting on these accounts may be problematic, as many students do not understand the process they are experiencing or the needs of their new environment. Without this understanding, well-developed interventions may fail to gain student engagement at that time. A better understanding of which aspects of university life do seem most relevant to students, during transition, may help universities to better target their support. This qualitative study requested two cohorts of students to respond to two open statements, seeking to identify which aspects of their experience they found most and least helpful. In this way it was hoped to gain some insight into which aspects of university life were most dominant in their thinking. To identify key themes, among which were (1) social support, (2) psychological mind-set and lifestyle, and (3) university actions, 498 responses were received, coded and analysed. Academic concerns did not appear to be a significant theme. The findings of this study suggest that transition support may gain better student engagement if it is initially focused on social integration and student wellbeing and lifestyle. Universities may also wish to pay more attention to the impact of administrative processes failing to meet student needs in the transition period.
  • Predicting stress and mental wellbeing among doctoral researchers

    Byrom, Nicola C.; Dinu, Larisa; Kirkman, Ann; Hughes, Gareth; Kings College London; University of Derby (Informa UK Limited, 2020-09-24)
    Although mental health in higher education is increasingly recognised as a public health issue, postgraduate research students are often overlooked. Recent studies indicate a high prevalence of mental distress in this population. This study assesses the experience of doctoral researchers and identifies factors influencing mental wellbeing and perceived stress. A cross-sectional study examined how key demographic, individual and contextual factors related to stress and mental wellbeing in a sample of 431 doctoral researchers in the United Kingdom. Respondents gave positive reports about their supervisory relationship and identified feeling confidently prepared for their work. Family support, good general health, sleep and low levels of self-depreciation predicted stronger mental wellbeing and lower levels of stress. Students who were confident about their future career and felt well prepared for their studies were less stressed and those who were achievement orientated had better mental wellbeing. Focused attention on exploring career options and building confidence may help reduce stress among doctoral researchers. Taking steps to tackle the imposter phenomenon may help further. These could include addressing fear of failure, improving confidence in research ability and clarifying the role of doctoral researchers within the wider academic community.
  • Relationships Between Creativity, Wellbeing, and Learning and Their Implications for Students in Higher Education

    Hughes, Gareth; University of Derby (Springer Link, 2019-07-06)
    There are a number of claims in the literature that by increasing creativity and creative learning, it may be possible to improve student wellbeing and learning and academic performance (e.g., Robinson and Aronica 2016). To evaluate this claim, it is first important to consider the contested relationship between wellbeing and creativity and then to consider the implications of these findings for student wellbeing, learning, and performance.
  • Student wellbeing and assessment in higher education: the balancing act

    Jones, Emma; Priestley, Michael; Brewster, Liz; Wilbraham, Susan J.; Hughes, Gareth; Spanner, Leigh; University of Sheffield; Durham University; Lancaster University; University of Cumbria; et al. (Informa UK Limited, 2020-06-24)
    This paper draws on staff and student consultations conducted during the development of Student Minds’ University Mental Health Charter to identify five key tensions which can arise in assessment design and strategy when seeking to balance the wellbeing of students with pedagogical, practical and policy considerations. It highlights the need to acknowledge the pressures of assessment on staff wellbeing as well as students. The particular tensions explored include the need to balance challenge against the psychological threats this can entail; the varying impacts of traditional and novel forms of assessment; the differing demands of collaborative and individual work; the tensions between ideal strategies and those which are practically feasible; and the ways in which feedback is given (as a constructive learning tool) and received (often as a psychological threat). These tensions can provide a valuable point of reflection for educators who need to critically and proactively navigate these conflicts within their own assessment design and practices, as part of a wider whole university approach to promoting student wellbeing.
  • Managing student mental health: The challenges faced by academics on professional health care courses

    Hughes, Gareth; Byrom, Nicola C.; University of Derby; Kings College London (Wiley, 2019-03-05)
    To explore how academics on nursing and healthcare programmes are managing their roles and responsibility in relation to student mental health. There is growing concern about the mental health of university students in general and healthcare students in particular. Shifts in Higher Education policy, encouraging a ‘whole university approach,’ may place greater responsibility for student mental health on academics. However, little is known about the challenges that poor student mental health creates for academics on healthcare programmes. A qualitative approach, using semi‐structured interviews and focus groups, provided the opportunity for in‐depth analysis. Fourteen academics on healthcare programmes, including seven lecturers from nursing programmes, were interviewed between May and June 2017. Constant comparison analysis was followed to support grounded theory. Four key themes emerged. Academics had difficulty identifying and maintaining boundaries due to competing academic and professional identities. Student disclosures are accompanied by challenges arising due to professional responsibilities. Supporting student mental health on placement is difficult. Academics are aware and concerned about the potential negative impact of course content and practice on student mental health. This is the first study to explore in‐depth the challenges faced by academics on healthcare programmes by the rising prevalence of and concern for, student mental health. The findings indicate that leaders of nursing education programmes and their managers, need to be aware that academics face complex challenges in managing and responding student mental health and may struggle to maintain boundaries due, in part, to competing professional identities.
  • Editorial

    Baker, Charley; Lee, Jason; Rossellini, sarah; University of Derby (Gylphi, 2012-04)
    The diverse research interests of the three editors of this ‘madness’ edition of Transgressive Culture means the content here is especially trans-disciplinary. Given ‘madness’ and transgression are concerned with challenging the limit, along with Russell Williams’ eclectic selection of reviews, this is apposite. Charley Baker is Lecturer in Mental Health in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy at the University of Nottingham. She co-founded both the Madness and Literature Network ( and the International Health Humanities Network ( Jason Lee is Professor of Culture and Creative Writing and Head of Film and Media with Creative Writing at the University of Derby and has published extensively on child sexual abuse and madness, as well as a novel about a mental health ward, Dr Cipriano’s Cell, and another novel that examines insanity, Unholy Days. Sarah Rossellini is a postgraduate on the MA Humanities – Horror and Transgression at the University of Derby, and co-founder of Beyond Transgression (, specialising in transgression, science fiction, technology and culture.
  • Student mental health: The role and experiences of academics.

    Hughes, Gareth; Panjawni, Mehr; Tulcidas, Priya; Byrom, Nicola; University of Derby; Student Minds; Kings College London (Student Minds, 2018-01-29)
    To understand more about how academics are managing student mental health, this project interviewed 52 academics at five universities. Participants reported large numbers of students experiencing mental health difficulties. A number of the academics interviewed described experiences of student mental illness that carried high levels of risk and distress. Academics who had worked in the role for many years stressed that they were seeing an increase in the prevalence of mental health difficulties. This report sets out 11 key findings and recommendations to ensure that students and academics are effectively and safely supported.
  • From transcendence to general maintenance: Exploring the creativity and wellbeing dynamic in higher education

    Hughes, Gareth; Wilson, Chris; University of Derby (Knowledge, Innovation & Enterprise, 2017-10)
    The issue of wellbeing in higher education has been an increasing area of discourse and action in recent years, driven considerably by in-creasing rates of recorded mental illness and apparent reductions in student resilience. With increasing recognition of the wellbeing challenge faced by the whole academic community, it is now incumbent on universities to move beyond deficit model support frameworks, to balance the necessary and essential challenge of study in higher education with the need for therapeutic effective interventions capable of engaging students and staff. There is a growing body of evidence relating to the health benefits of participation with creative activity, and engagement with creative experiences. This chapter presents a focused review of the creativity-wellbeing-learning dynamic to explore the possible opportunities for a move beyond the mere provision of supplementary student support. Given the increasing significance attached to creativity as a graduate attribute, the answer to the wellbeing challenge may be to question the notion of academic and therapeutic as being mutually ex-clusive ideals. Shouldn’t effective academic challenge improve wellbeing? Might the challenge actually provide the solution?
  • An investigation of the views, understanding, knowledge, experience and attitudes of sixth form teachers in regard to the preparedness of their students for the transition to university

    Hughes, Gareth; Massey, Frances; Williams, Sarah; University of Derby (Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2016-12)
    Research has identified that many students feel significantly unprepared for university life and study While much work has been done to identify ways in which universities can successfully support their students through transition, little attention has been paid, in the literature, to the preparation students receive in school. This report details a mixed methods study to better understand the role of 6th form teachers in preparing students for university and their perceptions of how prepared their students are for Higher Education A number of recurring themes emerged from the resultant transcripts and where supported by quantitative findings. The teachers in the study clearly believed that they had an important role to play in preparing their students for university. Much of this role is currently focussed on career planning, promoting university, helping students make choices and supporting them through the application process. While some work is taking place to help students develop personally and academically, most teachers indicated that they would like to be able to do more in this area. There were broad agreements and concerns about the personal growth and emotional resilience of students. Focus group participants, whose students are, in the main, from non-traditional university going backgrounds also indicated cultural barriers. Teachers in both phases of the research also indicated concerns that many of their students were unable to visualise the future or prioritise beyond immediate concerns and this was undermining planning and preparation. Academic concerns were not shared by all schools, although some indicated that they believed many of their students would struggle to integrate academically into higher education. Teachers in the qualitative phase also identified time, resources, culture and current student attitudes and behaviours as barriers to their ability to do more to prepare their students.