University of York: Using apps to support student wellbeing

The Department of Health Sciences at the University York has introduced a raft of interventions to support the mental health of students. Its ambition is to develop more preventive techniques to reduce cases of mental ill-health. It approaches the challenge from all angles, working with medics and digital technologists, economists and data scientists and in partnership with the NHS and the third sector, to help promote mental wellbeing.

Key actions taken:

  • York Unlimited – Transform Mental Health programme
  • Expansion of Open Door Team
  • SafeZone and Student Health App

The York Unlimited project undertakes work across a range of areas for the benefit of the York community and on a national and international scale. One of these areas is the Transform Mental Health programme. The project includes scholarships to support mental health nursing students throughout their programme of study. The first scholarship of £6,000 was awarded in 2019 and the plan for 2020 is to provide 12 scholarships of £2,000.

Healthcare students are some of the largest number of users of the University of York’s ‘Open Door Team’. This service was created in the past 10 years in response to a year on year increase in students presenting with emotional, psychological and mental health difficulties. The team operates a triage process, which can include emergency same day appointments. It originally operated through office hours (8.30am to 5pm) during term time. 18 months ago, a decision was taken to expand the team to offer services from 5pm to 11pm during term time. This was in part due to a significant increase in the number of university students requesting access to this service. Many healthcare students have to undertake practice placements at various shift patterns, so this increase in provision is particularly beneficial to them.

The university is also in the process of embedding student support officers within all academic departments. Their focus will be on student health & wellbeing and preventative interventions to retain and support current students. This will include working in the Department of Health Sciences within the framework of Health Education England’s RePAIR programme.

York has also rolled out two apps in order to support mental wellbeing. York was one of the first universities in the Russell Group to roll out the simple-to-use, free SafeZone app. This is designed to help students and staff on campus to summon security or safety assistance via their mobile phones and allows security or first aid personnel to pinpoint the location where help is needed.

The Student Health App provides easy access to more than 900 pages of reliable health information all in one place. The content has been created for university students by NHS staff and is regularly updated. The app offers plain-talking reassurance, information and advice on more than 125 topics relevant to students in areas ranging from first aid and mental health to staying safe at university and accessing health services. The app can be used offline, so the content is always available. It can also be customised for specific universities by adding links to local support services. This app has now been rolled out to six HEIs including York.


The York Unlimited scholarships are seen as an investment not only in individual nursing students but also for the wider community, as these individuals will go on to qualify and work across the region to care for the mental health needs of the local population. This funding prioritises these students and helps with non-continuation, as well as reducing financial pressures that can negatively impact upon mental health. The other interventions help to create an effective support network for healthcare students irrespective of where and when they need assistance.