Students: Sign up to national project creating blueprint for improved mental health at university

On University Mental Health Day (March 14), students are being encouraged to take part in Nurture-U, a national project which aims to improve their mental health at university.

Up to 40-percent of students report difficulties with anxiety and depression, while only a third of students with poor mental health access university services. Student demand for mental health support also exceeds current resources.

To address this gap, Nurture-U, led by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Universities of Cardiff, Oxford, King’s College London, Newcastle, and Southampton, seeks to understand and improve university mental health and generate evidence-based, scalable tools and blueprints of good practice for the higher education sector. The project aims to learn from student experiences to improve wellbeing services – and needs the involvement of students to do so.

Professor Ed Watkins, the Nurture-U Chief Investigator from the University of Exeter, said: “Most mental health issues emerge between the ages of 12 to 24, so students are right in the middle of that range. On top of this, university has its own specific stressors including adjusting to life away from home, managing finances, making new friends, and academic challenges. We know that a lot of students have elevated levels of anxiety and depression and we’re trying to bridge the gap between what students need and what’s currently available to support them at university. Whilst we know approaches that are likely to be helpful, they haven’t yet been tested in a university setting and this is one of key goals of Nurture-U.”

To understand mental health in students, Nurture-U runs a survey twice a year and more than 11,000 students have now taken part. Results echoed previous findings of high levels of anxiety and depression, while 50 per cent of student respondents reported high levels of loneliness. Around a quarter said they don’t have a healthy work-life balance, and more than 40-percent of students reported high levels of worry and overthinking – a known risk factor for the development of anxiety and depression.

In response, Nurture-U is now actively recruiting students with elevated worry to test a user-friendly app focused on building confidence and self-esteem in a clinical trial. They are also recruiting to a trial of therapist-supported versus self-guided internet-delivered cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). This will help determine which students benefit from each treatment and better recommend the right level of service to students depending on their needs. These studies are now open to all university students across the UK.

To help students find the right support and resources at their university, Nurture-U is also piloting a new digital wellbeing toolkit. This tool guides students through the available resources and support in their local university and empowers them to self-monitor their wellbeing and make their own wellbeing plans.

For more information visit the Nurture-U website or contact the project at

Rowan Calver is a first year Psychology student at the University of Exeter and student advisor for Nurture-U. She said: “I took part in one of the trials because I wanted to be proactive and check in on my mental health before it does get bad and make sure it doesn’t deteriorate. You can engage as much as you want, and I found it really helpful designating time each week to properly think about how I’m doing. University is so busy, and it can be really lonely, so it’s good to have a strategy to take care of yourself and put your mental health as a priority.”

Professor Ed Watkins from the University of Exeter said: “By the project’s conclusion, Nurture-U aims to recommend best practice for improving student mental health and help deliver on the goals underpinning University Mental Health Day. A key focus is identifying how best to deliver the ‘whole university approach’, where every aspect of a university works together to facilitate better wellbeing and mental health. We want to ensure that in addition to wellbeing and counselling services, universities’ culture, processes, curriculum, and environment promotes positive mental health.”

Nurture-U is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council, and Economic and Social Research Council from the government department UK Research and Innovation.

Anyone interested in taking part can find out more about Nurture-U here or by emailing Follow on Instagram at @nurture_uni.