Tertiary learner mental health and wellbeing: The development of a national framework

Author: Suzie Bartlett

Tertiary learner mental health and wellbeing: The development of a national framework

Suzanne Bartlett
10 March 2022

Bartlett, S. (2022). Tertiary learner mental health and wellbeing: The development of a national framework. (A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Professional Practice, Otago Polytechnic). https://doi.org/10.34074.thes.5593


This practitioner thesis explores the impact of tertiary study on the mental health and wellbeing of tertiary learners. I describe a dual practice approach combining two threads - the development of the work-based project for mental health of tertiary learners in education implemented as the Mental health Education Evaluation Tool (MEET) and the articulation of my professional framework of practice as a leading practitioner within the discipline of nursing associated with the mental health and wellbeing of tertiary learners. Through my professional practice, I aimed to achieve a stigma-free culture at Otago Polytechnic (OP), Dunedin, New Zealand, associated with mental ill-health of learners and to heighten their wellbeing. My contributions in these areas are three-fold.

The first contribution is the articulation of my framework for practice, as a change agent in the field of mental health in tertiary education. My professional practice has led to the implementation of a mental health education evaluation tool to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of tertiary learners. This practice change is my second substantial contribution. My third contribution is the creation of a strong mental health education evaluation tool that can be applied within organisations at a regional level, and on a larger national scale such as Te Pūkenga, to create a stigma-free tertiary environment. The findings of each of these three contributions are placed in the context of established literature and practice, and I reflect on my personal learning from that.
Throughout this work-based project, I am positioned as an educator within the discipline of nursing. I was concerned at the escalating numbers of tertiary learners presenting with an inability to cope with their own mental ill-health. I have wanted to understand the lived experiences of colleagues both within Otago Polytechnic and nationally, employed by tertiary providers. Colleagues shared their personal experiences with distressed learners through semi-structured interviews. All data was analysed by engaging with a thematic approach to reveal three overarching key themes: resilience; environment and mental ill-health.

Phase One of the practice research saw the development of the Supporting Distressed Students flowchart, in collaboration with Hayley Laughton, which has been presented internationally. A further development has been the Mental health Education Evaluation Tool, or MEET. This evaluation tool has demonstrated that the focus on supporting distressed learners’ approach is robust and flexible in the way it could be adapted to form a tool for enhancing mental health in tertiary learners. I describe the process by which this tool was accepted for implementation by the institution, including collaborative inquiry to illuminate practice, scrutiny and critique by the Mental Health Wellbeing Advisory Group and the Executive Leadership Team.

Due to the escalating numbers and acuity of learner presentations related to poor mental health in the tertiary environment, this work-based project to address this public health issue is not only timely, but critical.

Keywords: mental health, wellbeing, tertiary, learners, academic study, resilience

Suzie Bartlett's thesis was supervised by Jean Ross and Samuel Mann.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.

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