Promoting Mental Health: Students' Perspectives and Experiences of a University Environment
Rebholz, Rita Eve
The aim of this flexible, multi-method case-study (after Yin 1994, 2003), was to elicit the 'student perspective' on issues relating to mental well-being within the Higher Education Institution setting. It has been guided by the ideology of the health promotion model, the concept of salutogenesis and the Health Promoting University initiative. Phase One consisted of eleven focus group discussions involving fifty one self-selecting participant undergraduates and a semi-structured interview conducted with the lead medical practitioner of the Medical Centre on site. In Phase Two, a quota sample of 806 undergraduates completed a questionnaire. The three datasets were analysed according to a facilitative and complementary approach (Brannen 2004) and in keeping with assumptions of the paradigms from which they originated. The qualitative data were analysed within the framework provided by Miles and Huberman (1994) and the survey was analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). The findings demonstrated that this multi-site university may have specific difficulties with regard to the provision of equal access to the support services. Reduced pastoral care could pose risks to the mental well-being of some students whereas the allocation of students to a personal tutor might increase levels of social capital and reduce symptoms of 'anomie'. Conclusions of the study suggest that HEIs need an understanding of the concerns of the students and their help-seeking behaviour in order to define 'health assets' and minimise 'health deficits'. Overall, the development of co-ordinated institutional support service provision - that is responsive to the needs of a diverse student body - facilitates and supports the creation of a salutogenic environment that both promotes and sustains mental well-being. Health education programmes need to address the persistence of stigma and discrimination. Attention should be focused on health protection measures so that all groups of students are treated equally and fairly in order to counter-balance a possible residual biomedical approach to health promotion from within the medical sector provision. As a case-study of one university, the findings may be theoretically generalisable to other similar multi-site HEIs in their mental health promotion provision.