Innovative mental health support for student transition to Higher Education conference

An end of project conference was delivered by project staff and students in March 2022, at the culmination of over two years work, to disseminate and showcase activities, work and findings from the project, along with informative sessions from partners, stakeholders and guests.

Abstracts and presentation slides from all sessions are available for further information:

Conference brochure


Transitioning Students Effectively: Project Overview

Zoë Mills, Project Manager, University of Lincoln

If unprepared, university life can impact massively with the changes that it brings. Becoming truly independent for the first time, leaving a familiar home and environment could cause anxiety for many individuals. Navigating new cities and campuses, managing finances, changes to routine and academic learning alongside new social interactions, for some, can prove vast steps to take.

The University of Lincoln undertook a project, funded by the Office for Students, offering a city-wide approach, supporting students ahead of arriving at university. It extended and enhanced the provision of support on offer, working collaboratively with colleagues across the university and project partners in the wider community. The project developed a peer-to-peer approach to support students, their wellbeing and mental health, with a focus on the transition from school or college to university.

This session provided an overview of the project, its aims, main activities and highlights from work undertaken. It also discussed challenges faced by the team, key findings and recommendations for practitioners or future projects to consider, as well as initiatives from the project that will remain as its ‘legacy’.


Transitioning Students Effectively: Outreach and activities undertaken by the Transitional Wellbeing Team

Transitional Wellbeing Team, University of Lincoln

  • Tom Larken, Transitional Wellbeing Education Officer
  • Megan McAuliffe, Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisor
  • Danielle Mutch, Student Wellbeing Education Officer

This session looked at the activities the Transitional Wellbeing Team undertook throughout the course of the project, including outreach work in schools and colleges, navigating the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic and creating resources to help support students in their transition, beyond the time boundaries of the project.

The Transitional Wellbeing team worked with the University of Lincoln’s Student Wellbeing Centre to help deliver the Wellbeing Orientation Welcome (WOW) Summer School during the time of the project. The session looked at the outcomes of WOW and included information on the ‘How to Run a Successful Summer School’ resource for higher education institutions.

Making mental health relatable using student-created content

Digital Student Experience Team, University of Lincoln

  • Jasmine Foley, Digital Project Lead
  • Talie Colbourne, Interim Digital Project Lead
  • Holly Woollock, Digital Content Creative Assistant
  • Lucy Toogood, Student Digital Content Creator Alumni
  • Sally Hallett, Student Life Editor
  • Owen Liggins, Student Digital Content Creator
  • Tori Wood, Fresher Take Podcast Host
  • Alex Shenstone, Fresher Take Podcast Host


Student-led, relatable content that de-medicalises mental wellbeing is a key factor of engaging the student population. This was shown in Barrable et al.’s study into an online intervention system aimed at supporting mental health, wellbeing and study skills in Higher Education (Barrable et al., 2018). The study found that apps and content which avoid clinical style content are more likely to increase engagement and reduce attrition, and that the design of content is key to engaging and retaining student use. Those who participated in digital peer interactions also appeared to enjoy increased capacity to challenge stigma and negative attitudes towards mental illness, with the knowledge that others are facing similar difficulties offering empowerment and providing hope (Lawlor and Kirakowski, 2014).

The student panel showcased and discussed the peer-led digital resources and tools that have been created during the project. Panellists included students from a range of initiatives such as the Fresher Take podcast, videos and the Student Life App. It explored successes, challenges and learnings that can help to shape future student-led digital content creation.

Lincoln Students’ Union Wellbeing Network
  • Harriet Kennedy, VP Wellbeing and Community
  • Kelly Quinton-Jones, Community Officer
  • Niamh Howard, Mental Health Lead
  • Faith Jones, Sexual Health Lead
  • Alice Weston, Physical Health Lead

This session introduced the Students’ Union Wellbeing Network, focusing specifically on the network as a peer-level resource to educate, raise awareness, and signpost students to further resources within the Students’ Union on wellbeing matters in their transition to university.  

The team realise that a student’s transition to university provides invaluable lessons in being able to recognise, maintain, and improve their own wellbeing. The Wellbeing Network aims to support this transition wherever possible. 

Consisting of a Community Officer and three Wellbeing Leads, the Wellbeing Network support our Vice President Wellbeing and Community in facilitating improvements to student life regarding their mental, physical, and sexual health.  

The Wellbeing Network actively support the VP in delivering campaigns and gathering student feedback, developing dynamic projects to address the most current concerns of our students. Previous campaign examples include our Fresher’s Health and Wellbeing Fayre, Reclaim the Night, and supplying students with personal safety alarms.  

The Network also promote SU activities which benefit student wellbeing and strengthen individual support networks in peer communities, such as the Feel Good Programme, Societies, and Volunteering. These initiatives give students the opportunity to try new things, broaden their friendship and support networks, develop new skills, and give back to the wider community.  

One of the main services the Wellbeing Network signpost to is the Students’ Union Advice Centre, which has a team of trained Advisors who provide impartial and confidential advice, support, and representation independent of the University. Areas covered include academics, housing, finance, and welfare.

Enabling students to co-produce a chatbot to enhance digitally enabled care at the University of Lincoln

Leanne Taylor: Business Development Officer, Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

This session demonstrated how NHS colleagues partnered with systems across the Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to accelerate the use of a Digital Self-Management Platform, with co-production from students at the University of Lincoln. 

The project connected 16,000 students with a digital platform – VitruCare, to enable them to maintain good health and wellbeing. This provided access to Student Wellbeing services, the GP Practice, a ‘Chatbot’ and the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, all from their own device. 

Students co-produced the design, and they were able to contribute to the development, for example amending terminology based on their feedback. Students tested the proof of concept and accelerated the build as result of COVID-19.

Evaluating Mindfulness‐Based Strengths Practice in Higher Education

Dr Roger Bretherton, Associate Professor, School of Psychology, University of Lincoln

Mindfulness Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) is an eight‐session programme that combines mindfulness practice with character strengths psychology (Niemiec, 2014). This presentation summarised the structure and content of the programme, and the outcome of two recent trials of the programme with students at the University of Lincoln.

Study one reports the outcome of delivering eight sessions of MBSP with first-year undergraduates in medicine and foundation year science. Participants in the programme reported statistically significant increases in mindfulness, strengths use and self-efficacy, relative to the control condition. These results are of particular interest for students in the stressful process of transition into first year.

Study two repeated the programme in a modified six-session format with second year undergraduate students and yielded similar increases in mindfulness, strengths use, and self-efficacy relative to control; with additional relative increases in resilience, and psychological wellbeing. This demonstrated that the programme could be equally, if not more, effective in a shorter form, and thereby particularly applicable as a short-term wellbeing intervention for undergraduates in transition years.

Transition to HE: How raising aspirations creates better transition journeys

Jonathan Lidster, Project Lead, LiNCHigher

LiNCHigher is a collaborative project, part of a wider national initiative called OfS Uni Connect, funded by the OfS. The overall aim is to increase aspirations amongst young people and achieve the government target of supporting under-represented adults’ and young people’s access to Higher Education, Apprenticeships and training opportunities. The LiNCHigher consortia consists of the 2 Universities in Lincolnshire, the 6 FE Colleges, and the County Council.  

LiNCHigher works with and in 51 schools and colleges to deliver exciting activity programmes and outreach activities, as well as hosting an online training platform, a website for careers information called Future Focus. It also supports community groups and wider communities of under-represented learners, such as GRT students, and learners from a service family background.  

This session talked about why it is important, particularly working with under-represented students, to positively discuss their transition into Higher Education. LiNCHigher know that there is a connection between good careers education and transition support, with positive mental wellbeing. This session explored the role that LiNCHigher play, in not just raising aspirations of Lincolnshire’s young people and adults towards Higher Education, but how the team also support them with their transition into, and through it, by providing them with the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes, to thrive in Higher Education! It also discussed how LiNCHigher can better support students’ transition into Higher Education, and consequently support with their mental wellbeing, by more proactively working with students at an earlier stage in their education. 

Bishop Grosseteste University: student support and responses to mental health

Phil Davis, Head of Student Support, Bishop Grosseteste University

Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU) has a long tradition of recruiting students from non-traditional backgrounds. The changes in the sector since 2015/16 with an increased prevalence of students presenting with mental health needs have brought particular challenges to a small institution like BGU. Currently, 23% of BGU’s student population have a declared disability, with 15.3% indicating a mental health condition. Students facing a mental health crisis, requiring an immediate and effective response/intervention, represent a distressing and complex challenge to student services teams with limited resource (especially time) and generalist rather than specialist skill sets. 

The recent growth in demand for mental health support has led the University to explore partnership working to provide an effective response despite limited resource available in-house. This, in turn, has led to the adoption of an institution-wide strategy towards mental health and wellbeing, for both students and staff, culminating in engagement with the University Mental Health Charter scheme. The exploration of partnership working with newly emerging agencies has been an important part of this process. 

This session provided an overview of the development of BGU’s current support package for mental health, and how the activities developed by the OfS Transitional Mental Health Project are an example of the importance of partnership working for a small Higher Education institution.