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Lead academic: Professor Paul Farrand (Psychology)
Lead academic: Sophie Brooks (Psychology)


Press Release!

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

Past projects

Past students discuss their project of bringing awareness of Mental Health to school students 

UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal
Tim Francis, Mental Health Commissioning Manager

Tim Francis (Mental Health Commissioning Manager) shares his views on the work that students on the Mental Health Challenge produced as part of Grand Challenges 2017

Mark Blackmore - Time to Change

Mark Blackmore (Time to Change) shares his views on the work that students on the Mental Health Challenge produced as part of Grand Challenges 2017

Mental Health: Closing the treatment gap for hard to reach groups

Challenge overview

This Challenge offers real promise to make an applied impact, focusing on an area that presents significant difficulties to Mental Health patients, service providers and the Department of Health.

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme implemented across England has spearheaded an unprecedented expansion in Mental Health services for depression and anxiety-related disorders and resulted in waiting times reduced to below 6 weeks. However, not all sections of the population have benefitted equally. A significant ‘treatment gap’, the difference between the prevalence of a mental health difficulty and number of people accessing evidence-based treatments, remains for many ‘hard-to-reach’ populations including Armed Forces Veterans, university students, some people holding strong religious beliefs across all religions, older people and many others.

This Challenge will broaden your understanding concerning barriers to accessing mental health treatments, and working in small groups, you will create a project focusing on a particular barrier contributing to the mental health treatment gap in a hard-to-reach population of your choice.

As in previous years, some of these projects or outputs may present opportunities for implementation and if desired, involvement beyond Grand Challenges week to potentially stimulate on-going study or informing discipline specific research work.

To support you, academics leading the Challenge have professional backgrounds in psychological therapies with Professor Paul Farrand able to provide a national perspective arising from membership of several Department of Health mental health committees. If you want to work on a stimulating and challenging but rewarding Grand Challenge and make a difference we look forward to working with you.

2019 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

We also welcomed an exciting range of speakers related to each of the enquiry groups. These were Jon White, MSc Applied Psychology (Clinical) student, veteran of the Armed Forces and motivational speaker; the local branch of the University of the Third Age; and the University’s own multi-faith Chaplaincy Team. These speakers provided testimonies from people from ‘hard to reach groups’ who have lived experience of mental health difficulties.

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. which included the NHS South Eest Mental Health lead, and the HEad of Devon Partenership NHS Trust. 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.

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 2019.

"Not drowning but waving"

There has been significant recent interest in enhancing ‘resiliency’ to better equip people to adapt to the challenges life throws at us. This has become increasingly recognised as a core competency and transferable skill for students working their way through University and into employment. This enquiry group will give you the opportunity to draw upon the published literature, research in this area, or indeed your own personal experiences to think about ways you feel resiliency could be enhanced whilst at University. As in previous years, outputs have potential to help inform on-going developments in this area, not least considering factors such as ways to implement a recently developed strength-based cognitive behavioural therapy self-help intervention within the University.

 "I don’t trust them and they won’t understand what I’ve been through anyhow"

A common perception is that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) represents the main mental health problem facing Armed Forces Veterans. This had led to several Armed Forces charities developing services to treat PSTD and increasing capacity within the community. However, overall the pattern of mental health difficulties experienced by Armed Forces Veterans is similar to the wider population, with the greatest treatment gap experienced for problem drinking, depression and generalised anxiety disorder. In this enquiry group you will be encouraged to explore a range of specific barriers that reduce the likelihood of Armed Forces Veterans and their family members seeking mental health treatment from the NHS. This enquiry group is timely given challenges associated with meeting the Armed Forces Covenant, and the need to make NHS mental health services more acceptable for the treatment of all common mental health difficulties.  


"I’m older with several health conditions, it’s only natural I feel down a lot of the time”

Older age need not be a time when people believe they should ‘accept their lot’ but a time for enjoyment, following interests and where desired getting involved in projects of personal value. However, older age can present challenges and as a result some people experience mental health difficulties. Whilst services are available it is also known that older people are less likely to seek mental health support than a younger population, although when seeking help recovery rate does not differ. This enquiry group presents the possibility to come at this problem from a range of perspectives to try to address both help-seeking barriers in older people and consider ways to more generally enhance the wellbeing of the older population, potentially being informed by many community projects now developing in this area, such as the Reading Agency ‘Reading Friends’ programme.    

“If I am convinced of my salvation, I should not feel anxious or depressed about anything in this world”

Religious beliefs can be a source of great hope and support in people’s lives. However, there are some people whose interpretation of their holy text or the teachings of their community is such that the experience of mental health difficulties is interpreted as a spiritual attack. For some it may be seen as a ‘punishment for sin,’ for others an attack from the devil or another negative spiritual force. Some religious communities will be suspicious of secular therapy and teach that prayer and spiritual input from within the community is the only solution to mental health problems. Some communities downplay mental health problems, suggesting that the material world is temporal, and that belief in certainty of salvation should bring about optimism in the believer. Needless to say, such beliefs and teachings will potentially prevent individuals from accessing mental health treatment. This enquiry group will enable you to address the mental health treatment gap for people with some strong religious beliefs from a variety of perspectives) and seek to identify potential solutions, alongside evaluating some current solutions that exist, including one based on cognitive behavioural therapy.

There are many other hard to reach populations that exist in addition to the ones covered by the other enquiry groups. If you select the option to choose your own hard to reach group, you will work with your team during Grand Challenges to identify a different hard to reach population to focus on during the week. You will have the freedom to choose a group of your choice, but you will need to justify why you have chosen to focus on that particular group.   

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