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News | Access & Retention

Men more likely to use Birkbeck’s counselling service, following UPP Foundation funded project

UPP Foundation and Birkbeck present student counselling project findings at roundtable event

Jo Myddleton and Charlotte Williams from Birkbeck’s counselling team presented the project’s early findings


The initial findings from the Outreach Student Counselling Project, which aimed to engage hard-to-reach students with mental health support at Birkbeck, University of London were presented at a roundtable held by the UPP Foundation last week.

Attended by higher education policy specialists, university wellbeing practitioners, charities and student organisations, participants discussed the project’s efforts to improve the engagement of men, care-leavers and forced-migrants with the university’s counselling service. The project was designed to help engage those hard-to-reach students (who did not typically use counselling services) that are experiencing emotional difficulties which are impacting upon their studies, confidence and experience at Birkbeck. It was funded by a £40k grant from the UPP Foundation.

Opening the roundtable, Director of the UPP Foundation Richard Brabner said that it was a landmark event for the UPP Foundation, marking the near completion of one its first grants ever issued.

Jo Myddleton and Charlotte Williams from Birkbeck’s counselling team presented the project’s early findings, saying that only one third of their students seeking counselling services were men. The research found that hard-to-reach groups experienced multiple cultural, emotional and gender-specific barriers to accessing counselling services at the university.

The UPP Foundation-funded project allowed the university to introduce several innovative measures, including a free 8-week gym pass for students integrated with the counselling service, a ‘Mind Your Mind’ podcast series with guidance on managing mental health, and a targeted communications campaign aimed at engaging the hard-to-reach students.

The measures have made a real impact for Birkbeck and its students, with referrals to the counselling service having risen by 33% overall, and the proportion of men and women using the counselling service has narrowed by 6%.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said:

“The Outreach Student Counselling Project is the culmination of hard work and commitment by Birkbeck to improving mental health outcomes for their students, especially for those that are most difficult to reach. At the UPP Foundation, we understand that there is an urgent need to address student mental health concerns. The work of this project resonates with our focus on student retention and success, and we’re proud that our partnership with Birkbeck is helping to make a tangible difference to improving mental health outcomes. We hope that the results of this pilot project can be scaled up and introduced at universities across the country.”

Charlotte Williams, Head of the Birkbeck Counselling Service said: “The aim of the project was to gain insight into the barriers facing individuals from these three groups and implement initiatives to help them access support alongside improving accessibility to the whole student population.

“With an increase of 38% in referrals last year and a further 33% to date this year we are clearly reaching out to those in need. The percentage increase for men accessing the service has improved however there is still plenty of work to do and Birkbeck is committed to acting according to the research outcomes and trialling further initiatives beyond the funding period.

“Next year we will be implementing peer support programs as one of the key themes that ran across all three groups was a desire to belong and to gain support from their community alongside being able to access professional services when needed. Birkbeck is passionate about reaching those groups less likely to come forwards and the Counselling Service is no exception to this, the work will continue and the outcomes of the research will be published later this year to the H.E counselling sector.”

Research from this project is expected to be published in summer 2019.

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