Students are a high-risk population for mental ill-health and face increasing academic demands, high levels of loneliness, and sustained financial pressures, which can adversely impact mental health.
Now a Swansea University team has taken a closer look at just what impact an optional well-being science module offered to undergraduates would have on students’ well-being.
The research, by Professor Andrew Kemp and his co-author’s consultant clinical psychologist Dr. Zoe Fisher of the University’s Health and Wellbeing Academy and Ph.D. student Jessica Mead, has just been published in the journal for the Teaching of Psychology.
Professor Kemp, the research lead at the School of Psychology, said: “The wellbeing of university students is deteriorating, highlighting a critical role for institutions to better support student wellbeing.”
Previous studies have explored the impact of positive psychology on student well-being, but this module created by the team moved beyond positive psychology, focusing on promoting a sense of connection to self, others, and nature.
He said: “Research tells us that well-being can be influenced by inequality and anthropogenic climate change. Our module encourages reflection on these issues and what students might do within their capacity to address major societal issues of importance.
“While the capacity of individuals to promote their wellbeing is greater than their capacity to promote collective and planetary wellbeing, there remains tremendous scope for individuals themselves to promote collective and planetary wellbeing alongside larger collaborative efforts through, for example, volunteering and effective activism.”
The team used questionnaires to assess students’ feelings of well-being before and after completing the module, alongside the results from a control group that did not complete the module. Comparisons with published norms further highlighted the beneficial impact of the module.
The team says its research is significant for several key reasons:
- Students are at high risk of developing mental health difficulties.
- Improvements in well-being have been shown to reduce future healthcare costs, and
- The findings demonstrate that well-being can be improved despite great hardship and suffering.
Professor Kemp explained the timing of the study was particularly relevant: “Our study was conducted during the Covid pandemic and demonstrates the capacity of strategically designed modules to improve student wellbeing during challenging times.
“These findings have important implications for considering how the education sector might support wellbeing alongside other major societal stressors such as the climate catastrophe.”