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University Mental Health Charter Award – how was it for you?

By iomh, on 9 March 2023

UCL is one of the first five universities to receive the University Mental Health Charter Award following an application involving academics, professional services staff and students. In this post, representatives from across UCL describe the process and the importance of the award.

Denise Long, Director, UCL Student Support and Wellbeing

Denise Long

UCL was proud to receive the University Mental Health Charter award (UMHC) towards the end of 2022.

Throughout the assessment process we adopted a whole university approach and demonstrated commitment to student and staff mental health. Achieving the award is the result of hard work by staff across the university over several years.

Each theme of the charter framework had a team of UCL academics, professional services staff and students gathering evidence and delving into the outstanding research, resources, and good practice – a positive stand out from the assessment report was the strength of the student voice.

The teams were also encouraged to highlight further learning and areas for improvements; we know there is more to be done and that we need to keep working and adapting to support our community. 

At the start of the journey there was a level of nervousness that we might have made an early call to sign up for the UMHC, however confidence grew as the evidence came together and we could see the breadth of what we’re doing across UCL. I am particularly excited by the opportunities for further collaboration and partnerships as we continue this journey.

The recent task and finish group focused on delivering a UCL Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan is another exemplar of this model and the benefits of bringing together key stakeholders. It is crucial that student mental health is not badged as the responsibility of one department, like Student Support and Wellbeing Services.  

An early and important decision was to identify an academic champion to lead on the UMHC submission, and we were delighted when Professor Tony David accepted the role. Tony’s leadership was fundamental to achieving the award. He was generous with his time and expertise, and his tenacity to successfully steer us through the extensive assessment process was commendable.

The UMHC award does provide an opportunity to achieve a higher award after five years. A senior oversight group chaired by Professor Alan Thompson, UCL’s Pro Provost for London and Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences will help us take forward the outcomes of the UMHC award and to have a constructive plan for the future.

Umair Mehmood, Welfare & Community Officer, Students’ Union

We worked in close partnership with UCL on the submission to the University Mental Health Charter Award, providing feedback on each domain area and helping to produce a team report on student voice and participation.

UCL has been very effective in meeting the enabling teams and our student led report highlighted those areas where practice is particularly effective.

Our report also mentioned those areas where we believe improvement is still required at UCL, however, we have been encouraged by UCL’s willingness to accept the areas where challenges still remain, and the partnership approach committed to working on these.

Tony David, Director, UCL Institute of Mental Health and UMHC application lead (2020-2022)

Professor Tony David

It was an honour to be asked to lead UCL application for the UMHC. I must admit to having been rather naïve about what this would entail! In fact, as someone relatively new to UCL, the process involved a very rapid crash-course in the mental health offerings within the university – for students and staff. That in itself was a revelation.  In this I was heavily reliant upon Mitesh Vagadia a senior manager at Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) and Emma Hughes, our administrator as well as the Students Union.

I was hugely impressed by the creativity and commitment that staff, students and volunteers at UCL contribute to make the university as positive a place as possible in which to work and study. The work that SSW does on a daily basis to support students and guide many of them through the challenges of demanding academic study, living in London, being self-supporting and independent and having to negotiate many new relationships – is impressive.

As a practicing psychiatrist, I was somewhat aware of how this can lead a small minority of people to face a mental health crisis – UCL links with the National Health Service including primary care – were scrutinised in the Charter review process. However, wellbeing goes much further than just treating mental illness and universities have a unique role within our culture, especially within London to foster wellbeing – through inclusivity, the arts and sciences, sport, the estate as well as scholarship and achieving excellence. I guess that is why the Provost has deemed ‘Mental Wellbeing’ as one of UCL’s Grand Challenges for the next several years.

The challenge for the next UMHC lead and all of us over the five-year period of the award will be to make sure all corners of UCL share in the best practices and initiatives on mental health, a challenge for the biggest free-standing university in the UK.

More information about the University Mental Health Charter can be found on this website.

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