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Student Mental Health: Responding to the Crisis

  • Wednesday, 17 November 2021
  • The Royal National Hotel, London
  • 08:30 - 16:45
Expert Speakers
Sponsors & Supporters
  • Overview

Join us at Student Mental Health: Responding to the Crisis, this year’s event will bring together HE leaders, strategic and wellbeing staff, students, academic/policy researchers, health, social care and counselling services to develop responses to the student mental health crisis.

This CPD accredited conference will explore the diverse impact(s) and disruption of lockdowns and COVID-19 on students, as well as breaking-down the cultures, economic factors, social and institutional pressures that contributed to dramatic rises in disclosures of mental health issues and student suicides at universities in the UK.

The conference will help you to develop best practice for supporting students returning to campus and explore the issues pertinent to their return. Will students need more support in forming or reforming friendships and societies after a year of isolation? We will look at how to build best practices in data sharing between institutions and families – measuring the importance of student safety and public interest against data protection, as well as exploring the benefits of investing in welfare support services and advanced planning.

Open Forum Events are delighted to be gaining a reputation for “truly inspirational” health and social care conferences. Our delegates are telling us that they leave our events with “new ideas and approaches” they can “actually apply” within their own organisations. We are proud to be recognised as a leading organiser of Student Mental Health National conferences.

  • Confirmed Speakers

  • Event Programme


Registration and Coffee in the Networking Area


Chair's Opening Remarks

  • Lee Fryatt, Retired Inspector, Hampshire Constabulary (confirmed)

As an Inspector at Hampshire Constabulary with 30 years of operational experience, including responding to critical incidents, youth offending and police custody management, Lee Fryatt has broad experience of responding to people suffering with mental health conditions who are at a point of crisis in their life. Lee’s family has been personally affected by the devastating impact of suicide, when in September 2018 his eldest son, Daniel, ended his own life just after starting University.


Lee has spoken at our previous Student Mental Health conferences in London and Manchester, where he has advocated for reform to the rules governing data protection and consent as they pertain to notifying a trusted contact ahead of a student reaching the point of crisis.

  • Megan Hector, Policy and Research Manager, Policy Connect (confirmed)
"Higher Education Commission Inquiry into The Experience of Disabled Students in Higher Education"

Disabled students are less likely to complete their course, are lower paid as graduates and were more likely to experience loneliness during the pandemic in comparison to non-disabled adults. In 2020 Policy Connect’s Higher Education Commission – an independent research commission made up of leaders from the education sector, parliamentary representatives from the major political parties and relevant stakeholders – published the report 'Arriving at Thriving: Learning from Disabled Students to Ensure Access for All'. The report followed a six-month inquiry into why gaps in attainment, access and continuation of study for disabled students persist in the HE sector. The inquiry was chaired by Lord David Blunkett, former Secretary of State for Education; Commission Chair Lord Norton of Louth; and Vice Chancellor of the University of Derby, Professor Kathryn Mitchell.


The report examined the experiences of disabled students across the whole higher education experience, organised into four key themes: teaching and learning; bureaucratic and financial burdens; living and social; and transitions and employment. Megan Hector, author of the report, will draw on its findings and recommendations in this presentation, focusing on the experiences of disabled students whose conditions or impairments include mental illness. This includes exploring the challenges for disabled students pre-pandemic; the unique challenges which arose during the pandemic; and how the report’s recommendations would lead to better access, inclusion and support for students with mental illness.

  • Afua Acheampong, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Faculty of STEM, Open University (confirmed)
"BAME Attainment: Research into BAME Student Experience and the Effect that Racial Inequality has on Attainment and Mental Health"

White university students in the UK are, on average, more likely to leave university with a First or upper Second-Class degree than those of other ethnicities. This is referred to as the BAME attainment gap. It is a sector-wide problem, though the contributory factors are not limited to the academic environment. They are complex and exist systemically in wider society.


Afua Acheampong conducted research into the experiences of BAME students at Nottingham Trent University and contrasted the results with the institutions existing data in order to develop an approach to addressing the gap. The research comprised of one-to-one interviews with BAME undergraduate students, submissions from academic representatives of all ethnicities, consultations with Nottingham Trent University staff and SU officers, as well as reviewing feedback from attendees of the NTSU's Black History Month event – informing a 23,000-word report, concluding with recommendations for the university and union to proactively tackle racial inequality and attainment. Since, this work has become embedded in institutional practice, been shared across the sector and supported universities across the world to develop diversity initiatives to improve the experience of diverse students.


This presentation will cover the findings from Afua's research project - exploring how the attainment gap impacts the mental health of BAME students and propose recommendations to expand knowledge, strengthen representation and raise awareness of issues restricting the success of diverse students and the student experience. In additional, she will explore the transformative impact of specific diversity initiatives that can have positive impacts on students.


Case Study

  • Alicia Wright, Bazaar Development Lead, Bazaar: A Marketplace for the Mind (confirmed)
"The Worsening Mental Health Crisis for Students"

The prevalence of mental health conditions amongst young adults are high in relation to older age groups and are increasing over time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures, many people have found themselves completely alone and struggling with their mental health. Unfortunately, due to lack of resources and limited engagement with services, a majority of people affected by mental ill-health do not access evidence-based support. There is a huge growth in demand for universities to consider more dynamic and creative methods when offering support to students in order to break the stigma, shape change and meet the demand of those needing support. Alicia will give context to the currently mental health climate and shine light on Bazaar: A Marketplace for the Mind which has been created as one of the most innovative solutions available to meet this need. She will discuss where it has come from, what it has done so far and how it can benefit others.


Question & Answer Session

  • Megan Hector, Policy and Research Manager, Policy Connect (confirmed)
  • Afua Acheampong, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Faculty of STEM, Open University (confirmed)
  • Alicia Wright, Bazaar Development Lead, Bazaar: A Marketplace for the Mind (confirmed)

Coffee in the Networking Area

  • Lee Fryatt, Retired Inspector, Hampshire Constabulary (confirmed)
"Confidentiality & Consent - Measuring Data Protection Against Student Safety"

Combining his professional capabilities and lived experience, Lee has developed a considered approach to the role of confidentiality and data sharing between universities and families based on the principle of public interest to protect outweighing institutional fears of breaching data sharing policies. This presentation will cover:

  • Thoughts around the Information Sharing element of the suicide prevention strategy for England and Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Adopting intelligence-driven attitudes towards prevention, informed by reality test plans. 
  • Transitioning to a system that supports students who are struggling academically - away from the current 'fitness-to-study' assessment model. 
"Starting the Conversation"

Over the last decade, there has been a significant shift in the willingness of students to talk about their mental health – and the arrival of Covid-19 has only driven this issue even higher on the agenda. The HE sector is working hard to connect students to the right resources and services but many students remain reluctant to share an existing mental health condition with their university or college, meaning their needs are invisible to those in a position to provide support. UCAS’ report, Starting the conversation, takes a closer look at applicants’ disclosure data to understand which students are more and less likely to share a mental health condition, and consider why some still choose not to. Nicola Turner, author of the report, will give an overview of the key findings and next steps, as well as an update on progress made so far on creating a culture of positive disclosure.


Case Study

Winner of the Herald Higher Education Award for Student Welfare: University of Edinburgh and the Feeling Good App.

The Foundation for Positive Mental Health charity and the app company Positive Rewards Ltd have long experience in delivering psychoeducation and coaching programmes for recovery, resilience and wellbeing.  Originating in the NHS for patients and rapidly taken up by staff for their own wellbeing, the programme  then spread to non-clinical audiences.  Following successful research with Canadian students showing the impact of the programme on positive emotions and psychological function, the Feeling Good App was introduced to the University of Edinburgh in 2018 together with wellbeing, counselling and student services, within a whole University approach to build resilience and wellbeing in both staff and students.  This approach led to outcomes which won the Herald Higher Education Award for Student Welfare 2019 (last time it was run) which will be presented as a case study. Since then the Feeling Good App has been introduced to a number of universities and colleges.   


Case Study

  • Pamela Orr, Head of Training and Wellbeing, Validium (confirmed)

Studying at university creates a unique set of challenges that can increase stress levels due to significant life changes.  The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has adversely affected high numbers of students many of whom are experiencing a decline in their overall mental health and wellbeing. Historically there has been a reluctance amongst students to seek formal help for mental health issues, with many students preferring to seek the support from informal sources such as peers, family, and websites. Pamela will discuss the concept of peer-to-peer support programmes in universities, the importance of a implementing a robust training programme, the integration of peer support into existing service provision and the multiple benefits across the institution. Delegates will also be introduced to Validium’s new peer support training programme.


Questions & Answer Session

  • Lee Fryatt, Retired Inspector, Hampshire Constabulary (confirmed)
  • Nicola Turner, Policy Executive, UCAS (confirmed)
  • Pamela Orr, Head of Training and Wellbeing, Validium (confirmed)


We'll be working with venues to ensure lunch at our events is as delicious as ever and caters for a range of dietary preferences - whilst being served in a safe and seamless manner. Some of the new measures we will be introducing to this effect are:

  • One-way queuing systems with safe distancing in operation.
  • Individually portioned dishes and pre-sealed cutlery will be served at collection points.  

We will request food is sourced locally to reduce food miles.


Chair's Afternoon Address

  • Lee Fryatt, Retired Inspector, Hampshire Constabulary (confirmed)

Afternoon Keynote Address

  • Géraldine Dufour, Vice-Chair, Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Expert Group (MWBHE) (confirmed)

There are rising concerns about students’ increasing need and use of mental health services and counselling. Lack of clarity between wellbeing and mental health needs can lead to the commissioning of initiatives, some less suitable than others. Despite initiatives to enhance student support, such as the Student Mind Charter, there is an appetite for doing more with less in universities and a risk that provision of counselling becomes so limited as to become meaningless. There are fears that institutions will not be rational in their responses in meeting demand for mental health support, especially at a time of crisis with COVID-19, as institutions are in rapid response mode. To counteract this, some counselling services are engaging in research to demonstrate their value and effectiveness. In this session. Geraldine will talk to you about key issues, challenges and guidance related to student mental wellbeing and the importance of balancing innovation with rigorous use of evidence base.


Géraldine Dufour is the Vice-Chair of the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Expert Group (MWBHE) at Advance HE, a past Chair of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Universities & Colleges Division as well as the national group for Heads of University Counselling Services (HUCS) and the Chair of the Academic Committee of China-UK University Counselling Association.

  • Jessica Hyer, Researcher, Developing Good Practice within HE, Student Sex Work, Safety and Inclusion Project (confirmed)
"Student Sex Work: Exploring the Consequences of Stigma on Mental Health"

There is a lack of understanding about the experiences, motivations and needs of students in Higher Education who are also engaged in sex work. Jessica Hyer is a supporting researcher on the University of Leicester's Student Sex Work project - a programme undertaking new research and offering free training packages for universities and colleges interested in understanding the complexities in students engaging with sex work to meet the cost of living.

Jessica will detail the aims and key findings from the programme's activities to date that will provide delegates with an overview of the context in which increasing numbers of students are engaging with sex work, including:

  • There is a likelihood that students entering sex work is increasing in number because of digital markets and that students are moving into online environments such as webcamming, which are very isolating.
  • There are major concerns among students about being 'outed' and disciplined by universities and professional bodies leading to termination of their studies, having major effects on their career, debt, privacy and mental health. 

Panel Discussion

  • Jessica Hyer, Researcher, Developing Good Practice within HE, Student Sex Work, Safety and Inclusion Project (confirmed)
  • Wahida Ashiq, Founder, Great British Mag (confirmed)
  • Annabelle Howard, Second Year Film & English Student, University of Bristol (confirmed)

This panel discussion will bring together people who have used their university experience(s) to develop resources, ideas and networks that support people from a diverse cross section of the student population. 

  • Wahida Ashiq is the founder of Great British Mag - published domestically and in China, it is the UK's only media channel exclusively for international students; publishing content that supports international students in transitioning to the UK and acclimatising to British culture. 
  • Jessica Hyer started Support for Student Sex Workers. Jessica is now working as part of a North West action group led by Dr. Teela Sanders, one of the UK's leading experts in sex work whose research sits on the borders of criminology and sociology, exploring the inter-relationship between sexuality and socio-legal structures.
  • Annabelle Howard attended the first national student mental health conference in 2019 on behalf of the University of Bristol's Arts department; Annabelle returned to Chair the second national conference as well as delivering a presentation on how information given to students in secondary school and further education creates misconceptions of university - creating immense pressures before they even set foot on campus.

Afternoon Refreshment Break

"Responding to the Pandemic"

The pandemic and restrictions introduced to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 have compounded existing problems and presented a series of new issues that will have a diverse impact across the current and next cohort(s) of students. The University Partnerships Programme are launching the UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission to understand where the most damage has been done to the academic progress of students as well as their mental health, extra-curricular activity and graduate prospects, in order to accumulate best practice around interventions - however small, designed to quickly help students get back on track towards successful outcomes; rebuilding expectations young people have of university and returning a sense of agency over their own experience.


Case Study

Kev Cellend, Director of Programme Engagement, Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (confirmed)

Sixteen years on from the last Gambling Act, advances in technology and a national pandemic mean that students are at an increased risk of experiencing gambling harms.


We will look at why some students gamble and why they are classed as a vulnerable group, as well as offering advice on how universities can support the students in their care with our assured training and ongoing support.


Closing Keynote

"Preparing Students for the Transition to University to Reduce the Risk of Mental Health Problems"

The largest mental health survey ever conducted with UK university students found that of those reporting a serious problem they felt needed professional help, 81.6% reported their symptoms started at secondary school – not university. This suggests they arrived at university predisposed to mental health problems, meaning action is needed BEFORE students start university.

Our research suggests that:

  • ‘Exam factory’ schools probably aren’t a major problem – but safeguarding and spoon feeding might be, resulting in young people arriving at university both ‘failure deprived’ and unprepared for independent learning.
  • Schools in middle class areas report an increase in ‘helicopter parenting’ – with most studies suggesting this increases the risk of anxiety, stress, depression and emotional problems.
  • Smartphones are having significant effects on some young people’s lives – from facilitating over protective parenting (the longest umbilical cord in history) to a range of potentially adverse effects for girls in particular.
  • The recent medicalisation of negative feelings and emotions is leading more young people to interpret normal experiences during adolescence and early adulthood as symptoms of mental ill health.

Fortunately, our research suggests a number of ways of reversing these trends, drawing on both new and established approaches, from both the UK and other countries – to help ensure a smoother transition to university and reduce the risk of mental health problems.


Question & Answer Session


Chair's Closing Remarks and Conference Close

  • Lee Fryatt, Retired Inspector, Hampshire Constabulary (confirmed)
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  • Contact Details
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  • Featured Events
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Contact Details




The Royal National Hotel, London

The Royal National Hotel, London

Offering breathtaking views across Russell Square the hotel is within easy walking distance to the British Museum. Well located with Russell Square underground station a 2 minute walk away.

Featured Events

  • Mental Health: Delivering Improved, Integrated and Accessible Services

    • 27 February 2014
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • Contact us for venue
  • Mental Health: The Five Year Plan

    • 23 September 2015
    • 08:30 - 16:20
    • America Square Conference Centre, London
  • Mental Health: Better, Faster and Earlier Help

    • 04 March 2015
    • 08:30 - 16:45
    • Pendulum Hotel & Manchester Conference Centre
  • Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Promoting Integration and Early Intervention

    • 08 December 2016
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • Pendulum Hotel & Manchester Conference Centre
  • Mental Health: Forward Thinking – Delivering the Strategy

    • 15 September 2016
    • 08:30 - 16:45
    • America Square Conference Centre, London
  • Mental Health: Moving Forwards – The Five Year Plan

    • 10 March 2016
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • Pendulum Hotel & Manchester Conference Centre
  • Mental Health: Making the Forward Plans a Reality

    • 27 September 2017
    • 08:30 - 16:45
    • America Square Conference Centre, London
  • Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Taking Early Action

    • 06 July 2017
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • The Royal National Hotel, London
  • Mental Health: Forward Thinking – The Implementation Plan

    • 16 March 2017
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
  • Children and Young People's Mental Health: Improving Care, Treatment and Support

    • 12 December 2017
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
  • Improving Mental Health Outcomes: Integrating, Coordinating and Transforming Services

    • 25 April 2018
    • 08:30 - 16:30
    • The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
  • Children and Young People's Mental Health: Providing Effective Support

    • 03 July 2018
    • 08:30 - 17:00
    • The Royal National Hotel, London
  • Meeting Mental Health Needs: Practical Interventions to Improve Services

    • 12 December 2018
    • 08:30 - 15:50
    • Mary Ward House Conference & Exhibition Centre, London
  • Children and Young People's Mental Health: From Early Intervention to Improved Services

    • 12 February 2019
    • 08:25 - 15:45
    • Mary Ward House Conference & Exhibition Centre, London
  • Improving Student Mental Health Outcomes

    • 16 May 2019
    • 10:00 - 16:05
    • Mary Ward House Conference & Exhibition Centre, London
  • Safeguarding Students: Addressing Mental Health Needs

    • 26 November 2019
    • 08:30 - 16:25
    • The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Downloads & Resources

  • Open Forum Events Sponsorship Brochure
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  • Student Mental Health
    Student Mental Health

who will attend

  • Associate Heads of Student Experience
  • ASYE Coordinators
  • Audit and Assurance Consultants
  • Casework Managers
  • Clinical Placement Facilitators
  • Community Fundraising Officers
  • Counsellors
  • Deans
  • Directors of Graduate Taught Programmes
  • Directors of Graduate Taught Programmes
  • Directors of Undergraduate Programmes
  • Directors of Undergraduate Programmes
  • GPs
  • Head of Study Guidance Services
  • Heads of Faculty
  • Heads of Inclusive Student Support Services
  • Heads of Products and Partnerships
  • Heads of Programme Support
  • Heads of Student Services
  • Heads of Student Support