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Introduction from Vice-Chancellor and Chair of Colleges’ Committee

For our students, from across the UK and around the world, coming to Cambridge is a huge and exciting step in their lives and a moment of great change and transition. We want them to thrive here and develop personally and intellectually. Their wellbeing is important to us in every way.

We fully realise that while most of our students do flourish life for some at Cambridge can also be challenging. This generation has had their educational and social development disrupted by a pandemic. Like other UK universities, an increasing number of our students require support with their mental health. 

This Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan sets out our commitment to making Cambridge a genuinely supportive and inclusive place to live and study. It describes our commitment to continually improving the support available for students. As a learning institution, we aim to listen to students, to build on experience and to reflect the best practice available, so we can help anyone who is finding their studies or life a struggle. 

We are working closely in partnership with Colleges, students, and the wider University, to provide urgent focus and deliver our plan. We have secured significant new investment for our student support services over the next four years. This will allow us to develop the University’s Student Support services, with elements including:

  • Increased and swifter access to counselling
  • Increased capacity within our Mental Health Advice and Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Services
  • Ongoing work within Colleges to continue to build and deliver support to our students, including a growing network of wellbeing officers within Colleges
  • Easy access to professional advice – in and out-of-hours – for staff supporting students with mental health challenges
  • A new governance framework overseeing student wellbeing across the University and Colleges
  • A new partnership with local NHS organisations, working together to improve pathways for our students into mental health services.

While these are important steps and reform has already begun, we know that we have a long way to go. To improve and deliver for our students, we need the help of everyone across the University. Student demand for wellbeing support is growing in Cambridge and elsewhere and we must continue to respond in a supportive, professional, and caring way. 

Dr Anthony Freeling, Acting Vice-Chancellor

Professor Pippa Rogerson, Master of Gonville and Caius College and Chair of Colleges’ Committee

Introduction from Cambridge SU

The proposals outlined here will hugely benefit students. It’s great to see extensive time and money being put into student wellbeing.

In publishing this plan, the University recognises the need for a more cohesive support system that connects the University, Colleges, and Departments together. The collegiate system by its nature leads to varying levels of support in each College and an overall fragmentation in services available. The core purpose of this strategy is to better unite the University and Colleges, to improve communication and to provide each student with equal opportunity for support.  

Some of the SU’s key welfare priorities are represented in this plan. The University’s commitment to reviewing its Intermission and Support To Study processes, as well as the need for clearer reporting procedures for harassment and misconduct is encouraging.  All mental health and wellbeing work in the University is deeply connected to the academic experience of studying here and we hope that this plan fuels further conversation on this topic. 

A proactive and preventative approach is essential. As well as increasing the support services available for those in need, we must think broadly about how workload, rising living costs and marginalisation of certain groups affects the wellbeing of students and staff. 

Above all, the need for clear and important communication outlined in this plan is essential. We must be honest with the student body about what services the University offers and how these are still in need of continued improvement. The last year has seen an unprecedented reform of University wellbeing services, which we hope will continue to develop. 

The Student Support department has committed to developing a student ‘engagement strategy’, which has the potential to lead the way in student consultation in the University. Moreover, the promise to set up advisory groups for BME, Postgraduate, and care-experienced students will help embed the experience of marginalised students in future decision-making. 

Sabbatical Officers, student J/MCR welfare representatives and others have fed into the work outlined here. But we encourage students to continue sharing their opinions. We want to ensure that we are part of a University who listens to, engages with and provides support for its students, while understanding  the broader institutional culture changes needed to ensure Cambridge is a supportive University. 

Daisy Thomas, Cambridge SU Welfare and Community Officer 2022-23

Elia Chitwa, Cambridge SU Disabled Students’ Officer 2022-23


Following the University and Colleges’ Strategic Review of Mental Health Provision in 2021, Cambridge has embarked on an extensive programme of work aimed at enhancing our support for student mental health and wellbeing. University and philanthropic funding have been secured to 2025 (in the first instance) to make this possible, underlining this work as a critical institutional strategic priority.  

The aim of the programme is to develop a whole-institution approach to student mental health and wellbeing; with all parts of the system working in coordination to ensure students at the University of Cambridge receive the support they need to thrive both academically and personally. 

Whilst we are distinctively placed as a collegiate institution to deliver a highly personalised and supportive student experience through close College communities, tutorial systems and our approach to undergraduate small group supervision, we are not complacent about meeting the diverse needs of our student population and the increasing numbers and complexity of mental health challenges our students face. We are fully committed to listening closely to what students are telling us about these challenges and to continuously adapting and enhancing the support available to students.  

This document sets out the overarching aims that will guide our delivery between 2022 and 2025.  This Plan has been developed in line with the Universities UK (2017) #Step Change Framework for mental health in Higher Education. We will regularly communicate our progress towards it to our students and colleagues across the University and Colleges.


This plan sets out a whole-institution approach to enhancing and supporting student mental health and wellbeing and demonstrates how we intend to continuously improve across eight core areas: leadership and governance; prevention; transitions; early intervention; support; partnerships; staff; data: research and feedback.  

1. Leadership and Governance 

We will:

  1. Enhance and embed greater leadership and management capacity within the University’s student support services. 
  2. Educate staff and students in leadership positions about the importance of mental health. 
  3. Ensure there are sufficient resources and funds available for activities and initiatives which will make a real difference to student mental health and wellbeing.
  4. Rationalise governance arrangements across collegiate Cambridge to ensure there is clear strategic oversight of and accountability for the issue of student mental health and wellbeing.
  5. Recognise the importance of student mental health and wellbeing within our University risk register. 

2. Prevention 

We will:

  1. Establish a University Student Wellbeing Team with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention.
  2. Continually seek input and feedback from students to understand which aspects of their academic life and student experience have the greatest impact on their wellbeing and mental health and take action to address reported concerns (such as workload).
  3. Conduct a review of the University’s exam access arrangements including adjustments and mitigation, ensuring that a student wellbeing lens is applied to this work and factored into its recommendations.
  4. Conduct a review of our capability and support to study processes, and continue to ensure that mental health support is embedded within them.
  5. Conduct a review of our intermission arrangements, ensuring that these include consideration of mental health support.
  6. Identify and seek to remove barriers to student engagement in extracurricular activities such as physical activity, student societies and music.
  7. Promote access to financial support, including hardship funding to all students.
  8. Provide opportunities for students to build or enhance skills which enable personal development and allow students to thrive in everyday life.
  9. Provide advice and guidance for students who have experienced harassment and work to create a healthy culture of consent and respect on campus through preventative initiatives and clear reporting procedures relating to sexual misconduct.
  10. Further develop our processes and systems to ensure that academic-related support and adjustments for disabled students (including those with mental health conditions) are effectively communicated and implemented.
  11. Create a suicide-safer community in line with the aims and commitments set out with our suicide-safer strategy (Outlined in the Appendix).

3. Transitions

We will:

  1. Deliver support for students starting university that is tailored to diverse needs and experiences, including targeted support for students from underrepresented groups and those with protected characteristics who experience particular barriers.
  2. Collaborate across student support services and the Colleges to identify incoming students with complex mental health needs and provide an individualised plan which facilitates the smooth transition of their care and support.
  3. Provide clear and consistent communication early on so that students know from the start of their university experience where to go and who to talk to if they need support.
  4. Provide opportunities to help students prepare for life beyond university by offering advice on further study, internships and careers, as well as ensuring students are made aware of external sources of mental health support available to them after leaving Cambridge. 

4. Early Intervention

We will:

  1. Strive to reduce any stigma associated with accessing mental health support and encourage a supportive institutional culture, where talking about mental health and suicide is not perceived negatively.
  2. Provide clear, positive communication about the range of support available to students.
  3. Train and support key staff to identify early signs of students in difficulty and equip them with the tools and knowledge to signpost or refer on to appropriate support.
  4. Encourage students to disclose mental health difficulties before they arrive at University, so that support is put in place at the earliest opportunity to allow students to achieve their full academic potential.
  5. Enhance early intervention initiatives to support student mental health and wellbeing within College communities, including increasing expertise and capacity within Colleges’ Welfare Teams through the introduction of dedicated wellbeing roles in Colleges and fostering a professional community of practice across these roles for preventative wellbeing approaches.
  6. Facilitate a multidisciplinary team approach to supporting students who are experiencing mental health difficulties, ensuring both academic and welfare staff are sharing risk and information appropriately to best support students.
  7. Improve out of hours support to ensure non-clinical staff and academics have access to timely expert advice and guidance to support students in distress or crisis outside the working week.
  8. Improve access to specialist mental health advice for key staff to facilitate help at the point of need for students.

5. Support

We will: 

  1. Communicate through a range of channels about the support available to students, so that all students know where to go and who to speak to for help.
  2. Develop a stepped-care approach across student mental health and wellbeing provision which enables students to access support and specialist services according to their level of need, including improved pathways/access into NHS mental health services.
  3. Develop an approach which enables information to be shared appropriately and supportively across the institution, so that students experience a joined up and cohesive system of support, reducing the burden of telling their story multiple times.
  4. Develop an institution-wide framework which facilitates and encourages students to involve trusted contacts should they encounter mental health difficulties.
  5. Develop and adopt a single assessment tool across the institution which ensures that wherever a student presents in need, they are supported to access services or provision at the appropriate time and level required.
  6. Develop and deliver central support services which are accessible and inclusive, and which strive to be reflective of the communities that  they serve.
  7. Ensure support services are appropriately resourced, resilient and flexible enough to meet student demand throughout the year. 

6. Partnerships 

We will: 

  1. Listen to and work with our students to ensure central support services are continuously improving and meeting the diverse needs of our student community, with the student voice informing all the strands of work delivered under this plan.
  2. Establish and maintain effective links between the University, Anglia Ruskin University, the NHS and other services to deliver integrated mental healthcare for our students and improved risk management.
  3. Build and strengthen partnerships with local organisations to develop comprehensive mental health and wellbeing support to meet our students’ needs.
  4. Work with external partners to provide training to University and College staff to build expertise and improve the support we provide to students.

7. Staff 

We will:

  1. Clarify the roles, responsibilities and boundaries of different groups of key staff and of those in our student-facing services.
  2. Ensure key staff receive essential training to support student mental health and wellbeing that is appropriately tailored to their role.
  3. Ensure University support services staff are appropriately equipped with the skills, knowledge, and understanding to support our diverse student body and their wellbeing needs.
  4. Ensure there are clear pathways for staff to raise concerns about and support students in distress, including outside of normal working hours, and ensure staff who are responsible for supporting students have access to timely support and advice.
  5. Build a network of the staff leading on student wellbeing across the Colleges to promote best practice and facilitate cross-working opportunities.
  6. Ensure staff whose own welfare may be impacted by supporting students in challenging circumstances are offered access to timely, specialist support.
  7. Continue to seek opportunities to align this plan with work being undertaken to support staff mental health and wellbeing. 

8. Data, research and feedback

We will: 

  1. With due consideration given to issues of consent, GDPR and professional confidentiality standards, develop ways of sharing student data appropriately across the University and Colleges, being transparent about what we are sharing and how, so that we can identify students in difficulty and have a shared view of their needs and support requirements.
  2. Evaluate and continuously improve our University support services, capturing and using data and feedback to understand the effectiveness and impact of our support and adapting services according to the insights these data reveal.
  3. Collaborate with our students to put their needs at the heart of how we design and deliver services, ensuring we have feedback mechanisms in place that enable diverse student voices to be heard.
  4. Seek opportunities to consistently gather and learn from data insights in relation to critical incidents and near misses to support continuous improvement. 

Appendix – The Student Suicide-Safer Strategy of the University of Cambridge and the Colleges

Creating a suicide-safer community is a strategic priority for Cambridge. In line with sector guidance, the University and Colleges have recognised that the importance of this issue warrants a specific and distinct strategy on this topic, which sets out explicitly our approach to suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. 

Inevitably and deliberately, there are areas of overlap between our overarching student mental health and wellbeing plan and our suicide-safer strategy. The two are inextricably linked. 

The importance of creating a suicide-safer culture has galvanised us as a community to make a series of aspirational commitments. These detailed commitments set out the actions which we will undertake to understand student suicide better, reduce its risk as much as possible and wherever practicable, intervene in a timely fashion when we become aware of student who present with risks; and respond appropriately to tragic deaths: 

Oversight and Governance

  1. The University and the Colleges will participate in suicide risk-reduction and response work across the wider community by engaging with local multi-agency strategic initiatives alongside the local authority, Anglia Ruskin University, Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.
  2. The University, its Schools, Faculties/Departments and the Colleges will take due regard in their risk registers of the importance of student mental health and wellbeing.

Suicide Prevention 

  1. The University and Colleges will run a suicide awareness campaign to raise the profile of the issue and to encourage all who need support to seek it.
  2. The University and Colleges will endeavour to ensure that students who seek support for a mental health difficulty are always taken seriously and, if they are considered to be at risk of suicide, are assisted to access suitable support promptly.
  3. Recognising that some suicides and suicide attempts will be unforeseen, the University and Colleges will endeavour to introduce more consistent mechanisms to identify and support students at greater risk and to be proactive in providing that support.
  4. The University and the Colleges will endeavour to ensure that students are encouraged to involve “trusted advisers” of their choice (who may or not be their parents, guardians, carers, spouse or others) early if they encounter mental health difficulties.
  5. The University and the Colleges will undertake a project to consider how communication and information-sharing between all those involved in supporting students’ mental health and welfare across the University and Colleges could be enhanced, consistent with data protection law and professional bodies’ confidentiality standards, whilst placing students’ informed and contemporaneous consent at the heart of any future proposals.
  6. The University, its Schools, Faculties/Departments and other institutions and Colleges will take steps, wherever reasonable, lawful and practicable, to ensure that obvious opportunities for suicide are not readily available in public or shared spaces.


  1. The University and Colleges recognise that creating a suicide-safer environment is the responsibility of the whole community and that different staff have different roles in this. Training will be a critical component, both to empower staff to support students appropriately whilst making clear the roles and responsibilities of the individual, the University and Colleges; and to set clear boundaries around expectations for staff in various roles.
  2. The University and the Colleges will endeavour to ensure that there are clear pathways for raising concerns about, and supporting students in distress, including outside of normal working hours; and that staff who are responsible for supporting students have access to timely support and advice.


  1. The University and Colleges will review the current Death of a student protocol, which outlines actions that should be taken immediately and in the longer-term following a student death, with specific consideration given to matters pertinent to death by suicide and the need to ensure that appropriate support mechanisms are in place for a community affected by the suicide of one of its members.
  2. The University and the Colleges will identify a person in the Office of External Affairs and Communications (OEAC) to lead on internal and external communications in the event of any student death. All News Team staff will be trained and prepared to communicate promptly with the media in relation to suicide and to follow best practice guidelines (e.g. Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for the Reporting of Suicide). They will work in close collaboration with the relevant College Communications Officer. The University and  Colleges will also develop links with the local authority suicide prevention team for support and direction when dealing with concerns relating to local media and press.
  3. The OEAC will monitor the reporting of the death of any student at the University on widely used social media platforms and risk-assess whether any action is required.
  4. The University and Colleges will introduce a process for reporting every student death and serious suicide attempt of which it becomes aware to a single named authority in the University. This process will comply with data protection law and be respectful of the context, including any investigations by the police, the Health and Safety Executive or a coroner. The University and the Colleges will work to agree a definition of what constitutes a serious attempt, and will regularly review and systematically analyse data on case characteristics, including demographics and means, in order to better target support and preventative provision.
  5. The University and the Colleges will review the current Serious Incident Case Review Protocol with a specific emphasis on scope, advice on timing (what can be done ahead of a Coroner’s verdict) and the process for disseminating lessons learned.
  6. The University and the Colleges will develop a protocol, informed by PHE guidance, to identify and respond to suicide clusters, including setting up an Incident Response Team, and working with local authority public health services in the event of a suicide cluster.