Oxford Botanic Gardens
Oxford Botanic Gardens

Introducing a common approach to student mental health at Oxford

From the 2023-24 academic year, the University introduces a Common Approach to Student Mental Health, more closely aligning both the University and colleges to support your mental health, and outlining what support you can expect.  

Sir Tim Hitchens, President of Wolfson College and Chair of the Joint Student Mental Health Committee, together with Kathy Noren, Interim Director of Student Welfare and Support Services and Deputy Committee Chair, answer some questions about what the new approach will mean for students.  

What is the common approach?

Tim: The approach ensures students have access to a standard provision of mental health support, whether presenting to their college or department.

What does it mean for students?

Kathy: We know from talking with students that it can sometimes be unclear what type and level of mental health and wellbeing support or services can be provided to students. The common approach sets out the standard provision that can be expected, regardless of your course, college or background, right across the collegiate University, hopefully helping you to make the step to reach out if you need to do so.

Tim: We have made sure to establish a really clear remit around the new common approach. It’s about everyone working in our colleges, departments and University welfare services coming together, being clear on our roles and joining up on how we can best support you as students. Sometimes that might mean you are signposted to more specialist, expert services externally, such as the NHS. We will always discuss this with you and work with you to best support your situation.

What if I feel unsure about when to ask for help? 

Tim: We know there are times when everyone can feel stressed or anxious, and these feelings can present in different ways for different people. It’s important to recognise that many of these feelings are perfectly natural responses and part of our built-in ‘flight or fight’ reaction. It’s when these feelings go beyond these typically normal reactions when it might be time to speak to your college or department welfare lead or find support from the Student Welfare and Support Services.  

I don’t know what type of support I should ask for, who can help? 

Kathy: I would urge anyone struggling with their mental health to consider reaching out to our Support Services (Counselling, Disability Advisory and Sexual Harassment and Violence Support), and reiterate that it’s perfectly ok do so – asking for support is not a weakness. Our staff working in support roles at Oxford are from diverse backgrounds, have a range of experiences and are specifically trained to support you. (This podcast addresses some of the preconceptions that some feel about starting student counselling.) Through the common approach, you will always be signposted to the most appropriate service that’s right for you.  

Tim: There are also lots of workshops during term time that you may find helpful to give you the tools to approach what you may be experiencing. Recent sessions include perfectionism, anxiety about exams, and imposter syndrome. You might be surprised (and hopefully a little reassured) that lots of students experience similar feelings and concernsyou’re not alone in how you feel.  

Who should I speak to if I think I want to get help with my mental health? 

Tim: Reaching out or finding the courage to say you need help isn’t easy, and we want to ensure that every student at Oxford knows what support is available to them should they need it. 

We would always recommend speaking to your college in the first instance, but under the new common approach, there are clear stages of interconnected support, so you could also contact your doctor, department, or the University’s Student Welfare and Support Services, depending on the difficulty you’re experiencing.  

Kathy: Many of the diverse challenges students encounter at Oxford can be overcome by talking to peers or friends, but we know there may be times when you may wish to speak to a professional, or someone outside of your immediate environment, such as the University's central support services. Our specialist staff in Counselling and Disability Advisory will work with you to understand both the degree of difficulty you are experiencing, and the best next steps in terms of psychological or medical support. As with physical illness, where a condition is serious and requires treatment, we will help you to identify and access the most appropriate NHS service.

Oxford’s Joint Student Mental Health Committee exists to align the University and colleges on student mental health, supporting students to thrive during their time here.