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Lead academic: Professor Paul Farrand (Psychology)
Lead academic: Zoe Symons (Psychology)
Press Release!

Mental Health Challenge academic Professor Paul Farrand featured in Daily Mail as part of #headstogether campaign!

UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal

Mental Health: The treatment gap

Challenge overview

This is a fascinating challenge that will broaden your understanding concerning barriers to accessing mental health treatments. You will gain insight into ways that inform how some of these barriers may potentially be overcome and it is hoped that some of the ‘outputs’ that you produce during the week may actually help to inform some solutions.

The mental health treatment gap represents the difference between the prevalence of a mental health difficulty and the number of people accessing evidence based treatments. With the prevalence of mental health difficulties increasing across the world, the treatment gap is having a significant impact on the individual, their families, society and the economy and places general levels of wellbeing under threat.

Within this Challenge you will work with other students in small groups, each focusing on a particular barrier you identify as contributing to the mental health treatment gap. In doing so it is hoped you will develop a better appreciation of the specific barrier, and be encouraged to consider potential solutions to help improve access to psychological therapies to enhance wellbeing. In 2017, several outputs went on to directly help inform service development and shape understanding or practice of professionals working in this area.

2018 summary

Students had the opportunity to network with a range of external stakeholders and share their perspectives. They were also exposed to the work of clinical researchers and training academics within the Clinical Education, Development and Research (CEDAR) group within Psychology. Members of CEDAR have national roles within the NHS England Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. These inform and support research, training and service development collaborations helping to understand and improve access to psychological therapies on a worldwide scale with clinicians and academics from countries such as Hong, Kong, the USA, Sweden and Japan.

We also welcomed an exciting range of professional and academic speakers. These were Andy Bacon (NHS England lead for Armed Forces Mental Health and Healthcare), Mark Sawyer (Head of Wellbeing Services), Debbie Hicks from the Reading Agency (the Reading Agency inspires people of all ages and backgrounds to read for pleasure and empowerment), and Professor Melvyn Hillsdon from Sports and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter. 

Students worked in interdisciplinary diverse groups within their chosen theme. Having taken inspiration from the speakers, the students spent the week carrying out their own project looking at what could be done to reduce the mental health treatment gap. All students produced outputs as part of their project, which included campaigns, posters, educational programmes, and videos. 

On the Friday morning, students presented their projects to all other students on the Challenge and an expert panel. In the afternoon, the students showcased their work at an exhibition in the Forum, which was attended by students from all Challenges, University staff and members of the general public.

Here is the 2018 Mental Health Challenge Timetable‌.

Enquiry groups

Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that students focus on for Grand Challenges Week. These are the enquiry groups that ran in 2018.

In this enquiry group you will be encouraged to explore a range of specific barriers that reduce the likelihood of people from populations, varying by characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and professional backgrounds, seeking treatment for a mental health difficulty. To set the scene, the introduction to this group will focus on specific barriers experienced by Armed Forces Veterans and their family members when seeking mental health treatment from the NHS. However, within your specific group you will be encouraged to follow your own interests and knowledge to identify a specific population of your choice. You will also be encouraged to use your new understanding to inform an output that may help inform wider awareness of barriers or develop an intervention to address patient level barriers for the specific ‘harder to reach’ population your group has chosen. 

Despite significant investments in services to support the wellbeing of university students, service delivery and provision can always be enhanced to close the treatment gap or improve student wellbeing more generally. This enquiry group will give you the opportunity to draw upon the published literature and research in this area. Or indeed your own personal experiences as students may enable you to think about some of the ways you feel the wellbeing of university students could be enriched, services adapted to meet the range of diverse needs placed upon them or service acceptability enhanced. Outputs have the potential to help inform on-going developments and service enhancements in student wellbeing and could be used to help shape or inform development of a University of Exeter ‘Student Wellbeing Steering’ committee that is currently being established. Or indeed directly ignite your own interests to get more involved.     

The number of people seeking mental health treatment places the NHS under immense pressure. Whilst the delivery of psychological therapies must be overseen by the National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence, there is potential to supplement evidence-based therapy by considering other innovative ways to improve wellbeing. This enquiry group will explore ways in which non-fiction in the form of self-help books based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is currently used to support the delivery of psychological therapies. Additionally, this group will also consider how reading fiction could help people better appreciate issues relating to the experience of their mental health and potentially enhance wellbeing. Outputs have potential to inform national programmes such as ‘Book Prescription’ schemes or local initiatives such as ‘Recommended Reading for Wellbeing’. Dr Johanna Harris (English Department), is currently leading research looking at ways reading could be used to help ease the transition into university life.

Across England, the Improving Access to Psychological programme has invested heavily in the delivery of evidence based psychological therapies through NHS service providers. However, such a narrow focus is not suited to everyone and this is a limitation, especially when other evidence-based approaches exist. For example, the National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence now recommends the use of physical activity programmes for the initial treatment of milder levels of depression. The focus in this enquiry group is upon examining the use of physical activity, not only for the treatment of depression but also as a way to maintain or enhance wellbeing. This focus may help inform group outputs focusing on areas such as ways to promote physical activity as a treatment for people with mild depression or generally raising awareness regarding the benefits of physical activity for mental and physical wellbeing. 

Student projects

Student projects from the 2018 Challenge are shown below.

Square One: A campaign that breaks down the barriers preventing students from getting involved in the plethora of organised physical activities on campus. Raising awareness of the benefits of physical activity beyond physical health, signposting students to sports activities taking place on campus, and organising additional beginner activities.

Exe-Cise: Highlighting different areas where exercise can be done around Exeter. Each location and video suggested gives examples of certain activities that get progressively harder in different locations.

WOW (Working out Wellbeing): Working with clubs/societies to develop a mental health support system and ensuring all clubs have a beginner programme for social inclusion. Will provide training for a rep in each society.

Words with Wanderers: A shared reading group between students and the homeless, to support the homeless in their mental health and emotional well-being.

The Fresh List: A reading list for Freshers to ease the transition into university

Raising awareness of local services specifically for LGBT+ community

Promoting wellbeing services that are available to rough sleepers

MENtal Health Heroes: Providing wellbeing support for young male students (years 9-11) through a mentoring scheme run in monthly PSHE sessions.

Online Wellbeing Hub: A new section of iExeter for wellbeing information to further raise awareness of services to students

Wider advertising of student wellbeing services through changes to the iExeter app, a promotional poster and an introductory lecture for new students

S.W.A.E: "Our team, S.W.A.E, Stay Well At Exeter, is working to improve the Wellbeing and mental health services for international students at The University of Exeter. We recognise that overcoming the language barrier and cultural differences between international and home students is a grand challenge, and we- as students can make a difference, so that all students can stay well at Exeter- locally and internationally."

Bridging the Gap: Connecting students more with wellbeing services, by using student wellbeing representatives to raise awareness of what support is available on campus.

Brace: A website signposting support for foster care parents

Kenny the Chameleon: An app designed to teach children and young teenagers about emotions, and encourage them to open up