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Project information

Supporting Supporters

Young people are most likely to turn to their friends for support, yet supporting a friend with a mental health difficulty isn't easy. 'Supporting Supporters' aims to give students the knowledge, confidence and skills to support their friends whilst also looking after themselves.

January 2016 - December 2018

Charity information: Student Minds

Student Minds logo
  • Need


    A strong network of informal support is important for young people who are experiencing a mental health difficulty, yet this can put pressure on friends and supporters. Students may confide in their friends before they feel ready to access professional support, leaving peers feeling responsible for their friend’s wellbeing. All too often the needs of supporters are forgotten and there is very little information or support available.


    By helping to give supporters the knowledge, confidence and skills they need, we can make sure that they are able to support their friends in the best possible way whilst also looking after themselves. This will in turn have a positive impact on the experiences of their friends, as they are supported by peers who are better able to understand what they are experiencing, and more confident in talking openly and offering practical support.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    Increase knowledge of the different types, causes, triggers & effects of mental health difficulties


    » Roll out the eating disorder 'Supporting Supporters' course piloted in spring 2014 across the UK. Develop new content for a course around self-harm.
    » Tie into wider resource development on the Student Minds website, including information on a range of mental health difficulties.

    What success will look like

    Ask young people to record their level of knowledge of different mental health difficulties before & after local workshops and events. Monitor reach of online training & resources.

    Aim 2

    Increase young people’s confidence in supporting a friend with a mental health difficulty


    » Support students to run interactive workshops on campus, sharing information and tips on supporting a friend with a mental health difficulty.

    What success will look like

    Ask young people to record their level of confidence in supporting a friend with a mental health difficulty before and after on-campus workshops to measure percentage change.

    Aim 3

    Help young people to develop the necessary communication skills to support their friends and peers


    » Interactive workshops will include information on motivational interviewing and reflective listening, with opportunities to practise these skills.

    What success will look like

    Ask young people to record their level of communication skills in supporting a friend before and after on-campus workshops to measure percentage change.

    Aim 4

    Help break down barriers to talking about mental health on campus


    » Encourage and support young people to share their stories to increase understanding of diverse student experiences, mental health and wellbeing.

    What success will look like

    Volunteers to record workshop attendance and number of meaningful conversations at events. Survey student confidence in talking about mental health before & after project.

    Aim 5

    Build volunteers' knowledge, confidence and skills in community action & talking about mental health


    » Supporting Supporters volunteers will attend a 1-day training workshop supported by online training modules.

    What success will look like

    Volunteers to fill in review questionnaires at three different points in time: at first contact with the project, after 6 months and 3 months after completion of the project.

  • Impact


    Our pilot Supporting Supporters course in spring 2014 led to a 60% increase in attendees' knowledge & confidence in supporting a friend. We expect these improvements to significantly increase supporters' quality of life; this will be measured using a standardised Quality of Life Scale at two time points, at first contact with the project and after 3 months. By developing online training resources, we will ensure that the model remains sustainable long term.


    Accurately assessing need and interest in workshops for friends and supporters - demonstrated through high attendance and positive feedback at previous events for friends and supporters.
    Ensuring efficacy of training and workshop content - demonstrated through positive feedback from pilot workshops in spring 2014.
    Ensuring sustainability of the project beyond initial funding - develop online resources to support ongoing training and dissemination with limited requirements on staff capacity.


    Donors and supporters will receive updates on progress with the project, opportunities to get involved and the impact achieved to date (including reach and qualitative feedback) through monthly email newsletters.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £28,000

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      Amount Heading Description
      £21,600 Volunteer Coordinator 0.4FT over 3 years (volunteer recruitment & support, training, resource development & impact)
      £5,000 Training Workshops Volunteer travel and expenses for 1-day training workshops
      £1,400 Promotion Budget for promotion of volunteer recruitment & on-campus workshops
  • Background


    On-campus workshops and events will take place at universities across the UK. Today, 49% of young people enter Higher Education and 29% of students experience clinical levels of psychological distress. Only 1 in 125 students disclose a mental health difficulty to their university, but in a recent survey by the Equality Challenge Unit, 75% of student respondents who had experienced mental health difficulties had disclosed these to a fellow student.


    Over the course of the project, we will work with 200 volunteers, building their confidence and skills in talking about mental health and engaging in community action. Workshop attendees will have the opportunity to develop their knowledge, confidence and skills around supporting a friend with a mental health difficulty. Through the project, we will build a knowledge base to support future work with carers and supporters by better understanding the role that friends play as informal carers.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity, working with student volunteers in over 30 universities across the UK. We have over 6 years' experience in delivering research-driven training and support to equip students to bring about positive change on their campuses through campaigning and facilitating peer support programmes. We have a strong background in working with supporters through activities such as our 'How to Save a Life' workshops and 'Look After Your Mate' campaign.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Dr. Nicola Byrom

    Dr. Nicola Byrom is an academic psychologist at Oxford University. Nicola founded Student Minds in 2009 and is the Chair of the Trustee Board.

    Rosie Tressler

    Rosie Tressler is the CEO of Student Minds and has a background in student mental health, campaigning and project management within Higher Education.

    Vicky Gall

    Vicky Gall is the Volunteer Manager for Student Minds and previously volunteered as an eating disorder group facilitator at Southampton University.

Vicky shares her experience of supporting friends.

There's no lesson that prepares you for supporting a friend with a mental health difficulty. I found it hard to know what to do or say to help.

Student, Southampton University