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The role of student peers in HE student mental health and well-being

Joanne Smith (School of Health and Society, University of Bolton, Bolton, UK)
Gareth Hughes (student charter at the Student Minds Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Leigh Spanner (Student Minds Leeds, Leeds, UK)

Mental Health and Social Inclusion

ISSN: 2042-8308

Article publication date: 13 December 2022




There is evidence that students’ experiences in higher education can be adversely affected by mental health issues, whilst well-being can be bolstered through a sense of belonging. This study aims to draw from Student Minds research into student mental health to consider the importance of peers to constructing a sense of belonging.


This paper draws from a thematic review of 12 focus groups – involving student services staff in six UK universities (69 participants) – conducted as part of the consultation and creation of the Student Minds University Mental Health Charter. The schedule considered student support, service structures and developments to enhance student well-being and manage mental health risks.


A significant theme explored here is the positionality of student peers in terms of relatability, and the importance of orientation and belonging for student mental health and well-being. The findings also consider types of peer involvement (formal/informal) and the influence of structure, training and boundaries in interventions.

Research limitations/implications

Findings reveal the importance of feeling a sense of belonging in the university community to achieve well-being and good mental health. Peer support is an important contributor that supports transitions into university and creates a sense of belonging, which is important to all students, but more so to those less familiar with university, who lack role models and more easily feel isolated.

Practical implications

The research has implications for higher education providers, which should inform the promotion of peer support within student services, based on the recognised contribution to well-being and mental health. This is important for student success and related opportunities.

Social implications

Success in higher education will open opportunities and create improved future prospects for individuals. This will not be realised for individuals who face boundaries and barriers to successful transition through university. The importance of belonging and role of peer support has implications for those who find themselves excluded in society.


This is a qualitative study which gives voice to individuals in universities across the UK. The theme of peer support within this context and linked with mental health and well-being is underexplored.



Thanks to Student Minds for creating this research opportunity in the process of creating the Student Charter.


Smith, J., Hughes, G. and Spanner, L. (2022), "The role of student peers in HE student mental health and well-being", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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