UWE Bristol academics explore if a new concept: “SAILL” (Struggles Around Independent Learning and Living) could help us understand more about student mental health issues.

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Publishing with a UWE graduate, Dr Miles Thompson (co-lead of the Psychological Sciences Research Group, PSRG) and Dr Chris Pawson Associate Head of Department for Psychology) present a new study about how students navigate their entry into higher education, making the transition to independent learning and living.

Student mental health issues are of increasing concern both inside and outside of the higher education (HE) sector. This qualitative study explores contemporary students’ experiences of their transition into HE to try and gain an up-to-date picture of the multiple, potential sources of distress they may be experiencing.

Focus groups and interviews were held with a total of 10 participants. The results clustered around three themes:

(1) Challenges of independent living

(2) Challenges of independent learning

(3) Social support and pressure

In the discussion, the authors note how the existing literature generally supports these new findings. Indeed, they explain how many of these issues have been studied for many years, even decades. As such they wonder what, if anything, has changed such that student distress appears to be on the increase?

The authors go on to consider why the challenges of learning and living independently – “a consistent and longstanding part of university life” – is possibly causing more problems now than previously. The authors provisionally introduce a new concept and potential focus for future work in this area: SAILL (Struggles Around Independent Learning and Living). They consider whether such a focus might help open up new pathways for researchers.

Simon Phillips, Deputy Director Student and Academic Services at UWE Bristol who is thanked by the authors comments:

“Mental health problems in students are rising across the sector. We are grateful for all research that can help us understand more about why and improve the services that we offer to our students. Anecdotally, we recognise this new notion of SAILL in our student well-being caseload. With that in mind, we look forward to working with the researchers to try and understand more about SAILL issues in order to better serve our students throughout their time in Higher Education.”

The full publication is freely accessible to all both online and to download here