Authors: Mark O’Brien, Education Quality Enhancement, University of Liverpool, UK and Joanne Worsley, Department of Primary Care and Mental Health, University of Liverpool, UK.



Poor mental health and self-harm are becoming increasingly common in student populations. Strategic partnerships between universities and NHS mental health services can ensure that students have access to appropriate support. The current paper reports on a pilot service evaluation of a brief therapy service for students who have recently self-harmed, namely University-Community Outpatient Psychotherapy Engagement (U-COPE) service. The aim of the pilot evaluation was to ascertain the efficacy of the U-COPE service as well as offer insights around partnership working between university and NHS mental health services in relation to the design, implementation, and delivery of the U-COPE service. Students completed measures of psychological distress before and after the intervention, as well as across the four therapy sessions. There was a reduction in psychological distress between assessment and discharge. Psychological distress also reduced significantly between the first and final therapy session. Most students (93%) continued their programme of study from the year in which they had accessed the U-COPE service to their next year of study. The provision of brief, relational psychotherapy to students presenting with self-harm related difficulties is a novel approach to intervention. The success of this approach illustrates how multiple organisations play a role in supporting student mental health, bringing a blend of diverse skills and expertise together. Although the U-COPE service shows promise as a brief intervention for students who self-harm, these findings should be treated with caution due to the small sample size. Further investigation of this brief intervention is warranted to ascertain whether U-COPE has a long-term impact on difficulties and distress-related behaviours.

Keywords: Self-harm, psychological distress, University-NHS partnerships, U-COPE, psychotherapy, clinical evaluation.

Vol 5, Issue 1, April 2024