STudent Experiences during the Pandemic: STEP towards Mental-Health and Well-Being
We invited all Cambridge University students to take part in the STEP mental health study during Lent term and are now restarting for the Easter term. You can join now whether or not you took part last term. The more people who join in, the better information we will have to feed into student services, colleges and the central university.
Lockdowns, social isolation, uncertainty and disrupted opportunities can have a large effect on students’ mental health and well-being.
STEP aims to better understand how mental health and well-being are impacted in Cambridge students during the pandemic, in both students who are residing in Cambridge as well as those who could not return to Cambridge. This will help the University to design better wellbeing policies.
We invite all Cambridge students to take part. As a thank-you, we offer:
- weekly prize draws. Thanks to students’ feedback we will offer the winners a choice of vouchers worth £100 (not just Amazon), or to donate the money to Centre 33, a local youth mental health charity*
- daily personalised feedback plots, showing the results of your goal-related item (see video 4)
- personalised mental health feedback (see video 3)
- monthly Q&A sessions, and
- regular interim summary findings, here on the website.
New STEP features
Based on feedback from students we have amended several STEP features, for a complete update take a look at the report detailing the STEP changes (PDF). The two most important changes are:
- The daily STEP survey will contain a personalised item, so that you can rate yourself on a goal-related topic that is relevant to you but not captured in our questions. In video 4, below, we will give some advice on how to make your personalised item. Or if you prefer written advice take a look at the instructions (PDF). We will also send you a daily personal feedback plot, which shows the results of your personalised item.
- We will run monthly STEP discussion groups where we discuss preliminary results and answer questions. Do email us your questions, and we will try to address them as well as we can: STEP@medschl.cam.ac.uk.
About the study
Take a look at the videos to learn about:
a) the study aims
b) student involvement
c) personalised mental health feedback
d) how to make your personalised goal-related STEP item
e) The maths behind the mental health scores
To find out more, please take a look at the frequently asked questions or read our Participant Information Sheet which contains even more details. If you have remaining questions email us at: STEP@medschl.cam.ac.uk.
If at any point you feel things are getting difficult, talk to your friends and family. We suggest that you may also wish to contact a member of your College's welfare team with whom you would feel comfortable talking things over (for example your Tutor, College nurse, Senior Tutor, or College counsellor if available). If you prefer to speak to someone else, you can find information on who you can contact here. On the link you can also find some helpful resources and tips on how to cope better during the pandemic.
Frequently asked questions
FAQ1: What is the purpose of the study?
Most Cambridge students have taken part in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme (ACSP). Many have reported back that they were grateful for the programme, but that some mental health testing may be necessary too. From previous research we know that lockdowns, social isolation, uncertainty and disrupted opportunities can have a considerable effect on students’ mental health and well-being. Moreover, we believe that these unprecedented times are difficult for us all, and are likely to affect those students living in colleges or private accommodation in Cambridge, as well as those who could not return to Cambridge. Therefore, we invite all Cambridge University students to take part in the STEP study. In a nutshell, STEP aims to better understand how mental health and well-being are impacted and shaped in Cambridge students during the pandemic. Eventually, the obtained knowledge will help the University to design better wellbeing policies.
Individual student characteristics and contexts may help explain the impact of COVID-19 on students’ mental health. To this end, the STEP study does not only track mental health and wellbeing, but also tries to pinpoint risk (e.g. loneliness) and resilience factors (e.g. social support), which we hope will further enhance our understanding of potential ways to better support students. Moreover, based on advice from students, we believe that it is crucial to be able to take impactful events such as changes in the University's COVID-19 policy, clarity over examination procedures, changes in governmental lockdown restrictions, or new COVID-specific developments into account. Therefore, we have designed a very brief daily online survey (< 2 minutes), followed by a slightly longer weekly distress screen (< 5 minutes). To design the briefest, most informative and acceptable survey we have taken advice on board from undergraduate students, postgraduate students, PhD students, as well as CSU officers.
FAQ2: Who can take part?
All current University of Cambridge students will be eligible to take part in this study regardless of whether they currently reside in college accommodation, elsewhere in Cambridge or anywhere else in the world.
FAQ3: What are students asked to do if they take part?
The study consist of 4 parts:
- After consenting to take part, we will ask you 2 to 4 questions about where you are currently residing, and 2 to 4 brief questions about your past mental health. This one-off survey will take about 5 minutes.
- Then, you will receive a daily online survey with 10 items asking about your wellbeing, perceived support, activities, and feelings about COVID-19 over the past 24 hours. This will take less than 2 minutes and will be sent to you every day for the duration of the Easter term.
- You will also receive a weekly online survey (emailed from firstname.lastname@example.org) for a more precise measurement of mental wellbeing and distress. Using cutting-edge technology, this survey will learn from you so it will not ask the same questions every time. This survey will provide personalized feedback regarding your mental distress level. This will take less than 5 minutes and will be sent to you once a week for the duration of the Easter term.
- At the end of the term you receive a final ‘exit’ online survey. This one-off survey will take less than 10 minutes.
To minimise the burden we shall obtain some sociodemographic information from CamSIS (find details on the information sheet). If you have taken part in the University asymptomatic COVID-19 testing programme, we will also securely access your record in the programme to understand the relationship between testing positive and mental health.
FAQ4: What will students gain from the study?
This is a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to research into Cambridge University students’ wellbeing during the pandemic – and we can’t do it without you! The more students take part, the more reliable the study will be as it will represent a wider range of experiences and will help us to understand the impact on different groups of students.
We will try to reward your efforts in 3 ways:
- You will receive personalised ‘mental distress level’ feedback in the form of benchmarking your score against a data bank of mental distress among young people in the UK before the pandemic.
- We will offer a weekly prize draw of a £100 voucher to those participants who complete all the daily surveys in the previous week. Thanks to students’ feedback we will offer the winners a choice of vouchers worth £100 (not just Amazon), or to donate the money to Centre 33, a local youth mental health charity.*
- We will post interim reports on the STEP study website, containing preliminary, aggregate and anonymous results to monitor mental distress levels publicly and live over the course of the Easter term. This will be akin to the ACSP covid-infection case updates. We will also feed this summary data into the University's governing body and the Colleges.
By linking events that happen during the term (such as relaxing/strengthening lockdowns, clarity over examination procedures or other University policies) and data you provide to the asymptomatic testing programme to the STEP study, we shall be able to explore possible determinants of mental distress and can use this knowledge to suggest changes affecting the whole student body.
FAQ5: Wondering how you can find mental health support?
We suggest that you first contact a member of your College's welfare team with whom you would feel comfortable talking things over (for example your Tutor, College nurse, Senior Tutor, or College counsellor if available). In addition, our Mental Health Services Information Sheet contains a list of various different sources of mental health support. The list covers services and resources provided by the University, services and resources that are unrelated to the University, and also resources that are relevant for students residing abroad.
FAQ6: Who organised and sponsored this research? Has the study been approved?
The University of Cambridge is the organiser and funder of this research. The research team works closely with the Student Wellbeing Team and has benefited from input from the Students’ Union, undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students. The project has been reviewed by the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.
FAQ7: Are emails from email@example.com genuine?
Yes, they are. The invitations to complete weekly surveys will come from this address.