Background to project

In September 2017, the Guardian highlighted the issue of student mental health concerns. A study by the Institute of Public Policy Research think tank reported a fivefold increase in students reporting mental health issues, and a record number of students with mental health problems dropping out of university (Institute of Public Policy Research 2017). United Kingdom university students support services are struggling to manage the demand for mental health support, with a recommendation that more self-help resources are provided early in the student experience (Higher Education Funding Council for England, 2018). Additionally there is a growing need for a whole university approach to student well-being (Universities UK, 2018).

Student anxiety is linked to a number of factors such as transitioning from home, managing independence and living skills, financial worries, relationship worries, degree worries, family concerns, and physical and mental health issues (National Union of Students, 2015 and Universities United Kingdom, 2015). But not all support needs to be focused on mental health – the majority of student worries are non-clinical and if addressed can reduce an accumulating anxiety load.

OpenUp UEA aims to address this concern by focusing on students transitioning into university and providing tools to help students develop their own emotional resilience.

It fits with our need to work in partnership with our students, and to invest in wider student support.

Evidence base

A detailed literature review looked at the most effective emotion regulation strategies, and drew upon Laura Biggart’s Economic and Social Research Council funded research, which explored emotional resilience in social work (Biggart et al 2016). The research identified six key strategies to adopt when things get stressful – ‘plan ahead’, ‘reframe’, ‘exercise’, ‘tackle the problem’, ‘seek support’ and ‘modify mood’. By using this as a template, the OpenUp UEA app aims to provide effective emotion regulation strategies for students.

The UEA App development competition

In June 2017, Laura Biggart successfully applied to the UEA app development competition, organised by our Research and Innovation Services. Four Computer Science undergraduates were employed as summer interns, plus a ‘scrum master’, a PhD student, to oversee to development of the prototype app, alongside the ‘product owners’.

In the autumn semester, the prototype app underwent user testing with undergraduate students, coordinated by 3rd year project students in Psychology. This user testing required the participants to download and use the app, before completing a questionnaire and taking part in focus groups to provide feedback on both the usability of the app, and the suggested features.

In January 2018, OpenUp UEA received proof of concept funding to further refine the app, with the support of company JoZi Tech. Two Psychology masters students are currently working on developing further features, and will be working alongside two Computer Science summer interns. The app was released in September 2018.

Contributors

The following institutions and individuals have each made valuable contributions to the OpenUp app and are sincerely thanked for their hard work and effort: