Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, visited the University of Derby today (October 6, 2020) to explore the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on student mental health and wellbeing and the support students are receiving.
The Duchess met with staff and students from the University of Derby and colleagues from the UK’s student mental health charity, Student Minds, ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10 October.
Conversations explored the impact of the pandemic on individual students, how the University of Derby is supporting its students through a range of interventions, and the national activity that is providing additional support. In particular, Her Royal Highness was able to discuss Student Space, a new online resource created to support student mental health, provided by Student Minds and funded by the Office for Students and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
On arrival, Her Royal Highness was introduced to the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL, Gareth Hughes, the University’s Psychotherapist Research Lead, and Rosie Tressler OBE, CEO of Student Minds.
Gareth Hughes, who hosted the visit and who is also a Clinical Lead for Student Minds, said: “Student mental health is a significant issue in higher education and the University of Derby is proud of its reputation as being at the forefront of supporting and improving student mental health.
“We have worked hard to develop our whole university approach, taking proactive steps to develop students’ ability to maintain and improve their own wellbeing and creating a learning environment that is inclusive and supportive for our students.”
After being welcomed by the Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Elizabeth Fothergill CBE, to the University, The Duchess met with Gareth, representatives from Student Minds and staff from Student Wellbeing at the University of Derby. They discussed the impact of the pandemic on students, the reality of supporting student mental health and the response of the University sector nationally to student mental health, including Student Space.
The Duchess then met with first-year students, where she heard about their experiences of the last year and their transition to higher education.
The royal visit continued with a session in the University’s mock nursing ward where nursing students and programme staff gave The Duchess an insight into the University’s peer mentoring system – a ‘buddy system’ where nursing students are offered additional advice and support from students in other years at the University.
The visit concluded at the University’s Sports Centre, where the Duchess met with the President of the Union of Students, Corey Beck, and members of the Union’s Sports Societies to discuss the Peer Assisted Learning Scheme and how sport has helped them and their mental wellbeing.
Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL added: “We are honoured to have been able to welcome Her Royal Highness to the University of Derby and extremely proud to be recognised for the work the University is doing to support student mental health, particularly during these challenging times.
“Our commitment to mental health extends beyond the University and into the local community, with initiatives to improve mental health in schools and local businesses, and is something we place great importance on.”
In addition to the work the University has done for its own students, it has been involved in national initiatives to improve the mental health of students across the sector. This includes supporting the development of The Wellbeing Thesis (a project is to meet the need for more preventative means to improve mental health among postgraduate students) and the University Mental Health Charter (which Student Minds is responsible for), both of which are run by Student Minds.
Rosie Tressler OBE, CEO of Student Minds, added: “Due to the pandemic, 2020 has arguably been the most unusual and challenging start to university life that any cohort of students has had in recent times.
“It’s therefore clear that this year students will benefit from access to additional guidance and support. This is why we created Student Space, a trusted student-focused place for students to access mental health resources, including a direct helpline, 24/7 text support and local university support information to help students easily navigate the wealth of support available to them.
“At Student Minds, we want to do everything we can alongside the range of services in the higher education sector and the NHS to ease the pressure and help students create memories and skills that will last a lifetime.”