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Institute of Mental Health



Mental Health is a human right – a workplace perspective

By iomh, on 10 October 2023

From making discoveries that change the world, to supporting students as they navigate university life, academic roles can be rewarding, but also emotionally draining. UCL’s Head of Workplace Wellbeing, Sally Belcher outlines how dedicated workplace health teams and researchers have come together to support the mental health of members of staff.   

World Mental Health Day is recognised annually on 10 October. It is a day that encourages everyone to reflect on their own mental health, and that of those around them. This year’s theme of ‘Mental health is a universal human right’ means ensuring mental health is treated equitably and with the same respect and dignity as that of a physical injury. Working in Workplace Health, especially around the time of World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to improve knowledge and raise awareness of staff but it also serves as a stark reminder on how far we as a society have to go.

The ‘Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Higher Education’ (2021) paper, reported that, ‘the overall level of emotional exhaustion was high. More than six respondents out of ten (65.3%) reported feeling emotionally drained from their work at least ‘once a week. with academic staff also perceiving ‘a poorer psychosocial safety climate in their institution and a higher degree of stigmatisation surrounding mental health issues.’

These findings highlight that staff within higher education are suffering while at work. However mental health of staff in higher education is multi-faceted. Staff in student facing roles often feel ill equipped to support students with their own mental health and lack the boundaries needed to protect their own wellbeing.

Professor Jo Billings, Division of Psychiatry, UCL remarks: ‘Working in academia can be incredibly rewarding, but is not without significant stressors, including high workloads, competitive fundings processes and job insecurity (Nicholls et al., 2022). The recently established Mental Health at Work SIG was formed to bring together researchers on workplace mental health and those with an interest in the mental health and wellbeing of researchers in academia.

At the inaugural conference in May 2023, the SIG explored some of the most recent research on the mental health of staff in higher education, including how the topics of our own research in mental health can often be sensitive, challenging and difficult. The Mental Health at Work SIG will reconvene again in 2024 and hopes to increase awareness of mental health at work in academia and promote more research on the impact of our work on ourselves.

The work of this Mental Health at Work Special Interest Group led by UCL’s Professor Jo Billings and Dr Danielle Lamb provides an ideal forum for colleagues to discuss policy, practice and research

A significant step forward in the mental health of the entire Higher Education sector is the University Mental Health Charter, led by Student Minds. This provides the framework designed by thousands of staff and students that serves to shape a future in which mental health and wellbeing are a fundamental aspect embedded into culture within universities.

UCL was one of the first five institutions to be awarded the Charter. The recommendations provide valuable insights for UCL’s leaders to continue to embed a whole university approach to align with UCL’s strategic plans.

Prof Anna Cox and Prof Jo Billings have recently been appointed co-chairs of the Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Expert Working Group. This group will have multi-disciplinary expertise tasked with responding to the recommendations from the University Mental Health Charter Oversight Committee. They will inform UCL Workplace Health’s strategic and holistic approach to staff mental health and wellbeing procedures, policies and practices. 

As in all workplaces, there is still a significant amount of progress to be made in the area of staff mental health but with a growing community of peer support, more than 180 Wellbeing Champions and 400 Mental Health First Aiders, an ambitious Research Culture roadmap that prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of researchers at UCL, the academic expertise and funded mental health training programmes agreed for all staff groups, the commitment is very much there

Sally Belcher is Head of Workplace Wellbeing, University College London

The Mental Health at Work Special Interest Group is hosted by the UCL Institute of Mental Health and intended to bring together a network of researchers and academics from across UCL who are interested in mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Mental Health Awareness Week – UCL highlights

By Rosie Niven, on 19 May 2023

Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this week, giving us a chance to shine a spotlight on the role that research plays in transforming the lives of people affected by mental health conditions.

This year, the theme is anxiety and the work of IoMH affiliates including Professor Oliver Robinson and his work at the Anxiety Lab, has been highlighted. Meanwhile, Dr Gemma Lewis, who specialises in preventing and treating anxiety depression, is interviewed about her work, which is also featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary this week.

The IoMH facilitates multidisciplinary thinking and collaboration, engaging research staff from across UCL. Some of this collaborative work is being highlighted this week, including the that of Dr Rochelle Burgess who leads research projects linked to mental health in contexts of adversity, often with a focus on global health.

And the work of researchers specialising in mental health from childhood to old age is also highlighted, with profiles of Professor Essi Viding, a specialist in the mental health of child and young people, Professor Gill Livingston, a professor in psychiatry of older people and Professor Roz Shafran who focuses on the translation of research into clinical practice at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.

Finally, at the cutting edge of research, we have data science approaches to mental health, which examine years of health data sets, helping us understand the social, economic and health outcomes across generations. Dr Joseph Hayes discusses how these broad longitudinal approaches, rather than looking at clinical data in isolation, can help us to better understand mental health conditions.

You can find all the mental health awareness week content for 2023 on a special area of the UCL website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mental-health/mental-health-awareness-week

Find out more about the people behind the research in the IoMH Researchers’ Directory: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mental-health/people/mental-health-researchers-directory

Find out more about IoMH affiliation opportunities here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mental-health/about/affiliation


Do mental health awareness events reduce mental health problems? We don’t know but we must find out

By iomh, on 10 March 2023

A calendar open on the month of May. Credit: Tony Slade © Creative Media Services

In our final blog marking University Mental Health Day, Lucy Foulkes looks at the concept of awareness days or weeks and asks whether we are doing enough to measure their outcomes.  

Yesterday was University Mental Health Day: a day designed to draw attention to student mental health and make it a university-wide priority. It’s a distinct day because of its student focus, but there are many such campaigns trying to put mental health on the map. In February it was Children’s Mental Health Week, followed by Eating Disorders Awareness Week. In May, it’s the more generalised Mental Health Awareness Week; in July, National Schizophrenia Day; and in October we go global, with World Mental Health Day. Every day, it seems, is mental health awareness day.


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.


University Mental Health Day – An opportunity to think about our own mental health and wellbeing?

By iomh, on 8 March 2023

A student studying in a library at UCL. credit: Mat Wright
Researchers need to pay attention to the impact of the content of their work on themselves. credit: Mat Wright

The discoveries and positive impacts of academic research can give researchers great job satisfaction but the role also brings stresses that pose a risk to their mental health. University mental health day is a chance for researchers to reflect on these, write Helen Nicholls, Jo Billings and Danielle Lamb.

Mental wellbeing at work has been relatively neglected until very recently, despite working age adults spending on average 35% of their waking hours at work and 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. We know that good work can be good for mental health, but that poor working environments – including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, lack of resources, limited job control and job insecurity – can pose a risk to mental health.