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A phenomenological exploration of the lived experiences of mature students with mental ill health studying for an undergraduate higher education degree

Alexandra Sewell (School of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK)
Anastasia Kennett (School of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK)
Rebecca Williams (School of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK)
Harry South (School of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 12 December 2022

7

Abstract

Purpose

Mental ill health is on the rise amongst undergraduate students and has been investigated using both positivist/quantitative and exploratory/qualitative research methods. However, the lived experiences of mature students who have mental ill health have not been directly investigated. A limited research literature suggests that challenges particular to mature undergraduate students can cause mental ill health or exacerbate existing needs. Further research exploring the lived experiences of mature undergraduate students with mental ill health is thus warranted.

Design/methodology/approach

A qualitative approach was adopted to explore lived experiences of mental ill health for mature students in higher education. The interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) explores the experience of higher education mature students who self-identify as having mental ill health. Five participants were interviewed about their personal stories and perceptions.

Findings

The study found that participants interpreted the experience of mental ill health as very difficult with no redeeming features reported. A lack of control over mental ill health experiences was contrasted with attempts to control mental ill health, whether successful or not, in order to progress with their learning. Participants conceptualised being mature undergraduate students as a last chance succeed in life, education or a career. This increased stress that interacted with their mental ill health symptoms.

Research limitations/implications

IPA calls for a small, homogenised participant sample. This limits generalisation of the research findings. Recruitment criteria welcomed participants who self-identified as experiencing mental ill health, leading to potential bias in reported lived experiences.

Practical implications

The research findings highlight the value of considering the lived experience of students experiencing mental ill health whilst studying. Whilst general approaches to support can be successful, this research demonstrates how higher educational professionals must orient towards an ideographic perspective when considering how to provide individualised, inclusive support for students experiencing mental ill health. A discussion on how this can be actualised is provided.

Social implications

The research provides impetus to the perspective that students have unique lived experiences of mental ill health, and that this is particularly so for mature undergraduate students. A key social implication of this is that, whilst positive based, one-size fits most, interventions for students experiencing mental ill health are useful, higher education educators must also be cognizant of unique, dynamic experiences each student will have. As such, there is a need to move towards a relational, dialogic approach when considering and designing tailored support.

Originality/value

Mature undergraduate students who experience mental ill health are at risk of not reaching their potential. Yet despite this, exploration of mature undergraduate student's experiences of mental ill health is nascent in the academic literature. Research considering their unique perspectives as an avenue to develop joint compassionate understandings and interactions between students and educators are additionally scant. The current study begins to address this dearth of exploration and commentary. It provides an idiosyncratic, novel inquiry into this important issue.

Keywords

Citation

Sewell, A., Kennett, A., Williams, R. and South, H. (2022), "A phenomenological exploration of the lived experiences of mature students with mental ill health studying for an undergraduate higher education degree", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-09-2022-0307

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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