Celebrating 25 years of student mental health support

Date 10.10.2022

To mark the 30th anniversary of World Mental Health Day (Monday 10 October), the University of Northampton is celebrating its very own milestone –establishing the first dedicated mental health service within a UK university 25 years ago.

Launched in 1997 by Counselling and Mental Health Team Leader, Jo Lester, the University of Northampton’s mental health service has gone from strength to strength.

The Mental Health Advisor role, which was developed during the service launch, was disseminated as an example of good practice in the Universities UK publication, ‘Student Services: Effective Approaches to retaining students in HE’ in 2002.​

The mental health service has gradually expanded, and has continued to do so, now reaching a total of nine Mental Health Advisers and Disability Support Allowance (DSA) funded mentors, tasked with supporting prospective and current undergraduate and postgraduate students throughout their university experience.

The University of Northampton’s mental health provision has continued to progress with the addition of Togetherall, a 24/7 online mental health support service available to staff and students that was launched in December 2021, offering training for staff, dedicated promotional events throughout the year which include Uni Mental Health Day, participation within The University Mental Health Advisers Network (UHMAN), as well as securing a rating of good or excellent from 90% of surveyed service users.

The beating heart of the University of Northampton’s mental health support has always been Jo Lester, who was recently celebrated by colleagues at Waterside campus for her continued commitment to providing quality service since leading its establishment.

Looking back at the progress of the University of Northampton’s support service, Jo Lester said: “When our service was first established in 1997, we received a total of two applicants disclosing a mental health difficulty on admission, compared with a total of 324  in 2021 – I believe this is due to an increase in confidence in disclosing mental health difficulties when applying for a course, which is in part a testament to the relentless and passionate efforts of my team.

“While the progress throughout the past 25 years has been significant, I believe there is always more work to be done, and the counselling and mental health team as a whole will continue to evolve and adapt alongside the changing needs and demands of our students. We initiated daily drop-in sessions several years ago that are popular with our students, and offer telephone, video and face to face appointments depending on the personal preference of our service users.

“I look forward to continuing to work alongside our fantastic team of people who strive to improve, progress and act as a voice for our students and university network.”

Vice Chancellor Anne-Marie Kilday adds: “Since joining the University of Northampton, I have seen first-hand the extraordinary lengths with which Jo and her team go to support our new and existing students.

“The legacy started by Jo more than 25 years ago kickstarted a revolution within higher education sectors, as she took the first step in leading the University of Northampton – and subsequently other universities across the UK – towards understanding the importance of mental health support as an integral part of wellbeing at university.

“The development of our mental health provision is an ongoing one, as we continue to work collaboratively with our student and staff bodies to reflect the changing needs of mental health provision within the higher education sector.”