Development and evaluation of initiatives to support digital interventions for positive mental health/spiritual growth to improve well-being/health behaviour change for physical health of university students

Development and evaluation of initiatives to support digital interventions for positive mental health/spiritual growth to improve well-being/health behaviour change for physical health of university students

Eligibility: UK/EU graduates with the required entry requirements

Funding details: Bursary plus tuition fees (UK/EU)

Duration: Full-Time – between three and three and a half years fixed term

Application deadline:14th of August 2020

Interview dates: Will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: September 2020/Jan 2021

To find out more about the project, please contact Professor Deborah Lycett or Professor Andy Turner.


The Health and Wellbeing, particularly mental health, of students and staff within academia is becoming a primary concern within the sector. This is evidenced by the recent publication of the University Mental Health Charter (Hughes and Spanner, 2019) which prioritises mental health as a critical issue and note that a survey of students at 10 universities found that:

… one–third (33.9%) of respondents had experienced a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they needed professional help. This equates to around 12,920 students (The Insight Network, 2019).

However, Hughes and Spanner also acknowledge that the link between mental health and the wider issues of wellbeing:

Most models of wellbeing agree that engagement with meaningful activity, learning, being connected to a community and achievement have a positive effect on wellbeing (New Economics Foundation, 2008; Seligman, 2011; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Gri, 2003). At their core, universities are communities united in pursuit of meaningful learning and wisdom (Collini, 2012). They can and should be places that naturally support good mental health and good wellbeing for all. Equally, there is a clear transactional relationship between the core missions of universities and the wellbeing of staff and students. Creativity, problem solving and good quality academic learning, are all higher order cognitive functions that benefit from good mental health (Rothenberg, 2006, Csikszentmihalyi, 2013).

Additionally, a cross-sectional study of college students reported that 25% experience significant distress associated with their religious and spiritual concerns (Johnson & Hayes, 2003). Therefore there is need to embrace a biopsychosocial-spiritual model of health (Hatala, 2013) in a holistic approach to wellbeing.  

Coventry University have developed an online portal ‘Connections Matter’ to support health and well-being. This has the following pillars: Mental Health, Physical Health, Public Health, Community Support & Volunteering, Spirituality & Faith, Students' Union & Student Volunteering, Postgraduate Students, International Student Support. However these are currently a compilation of links to support and activities for which there is limited evidence on the level of engagement and resulting impact

The aim of this PhD is therefore to investigate the student journey through these resources, building on them through co-creation and form the evidence base in each of their fields, measuring the association between student engagement and changes in wellbeing on a population level within the whole CUG community.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013) Creativity: The psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Collini, S. (2012) What Are Universities For? London: Penguin

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985) Intrinsic motivation and self–determination in human behavior (3rd Ed.). New York: Plenum Publishing Co. N.Y.

Gri in, J., & Tyrrell, I. (2003) Human Givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking. United Kingdom: Human Givens Publishing.

Hatala, A. R. (2013). Towards a biopsychosocial–spiritual approach in health psychology: Exploring theoretical orientations and future directions. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 15(4), 256–276.

Hughes, G. & Spanner, L. (2019). The University Mental Health Charter. Leeds: Student Minds

Johnson, C. V., & Hayes, J. A. (2003). Troubled spirits: Prevalence and predictors of religious and spiritual concerns among university students and counselling center clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 409–419

New Economics Foundation. (2008) Five Ways to Wellbeing. London: NEF. uploads/files/8984c5089d5c2285ee_t4m6bhqq5.pdf

Rothenberg, A. (2006) ‘Creativity—the healthy muse.’ The Lancet, 368 Special Issue, S8–S9 DOI:–6736(06)69905–4

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011) Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and well–being – and how to achieve them. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

The Insight Network, 2019). University Student Mental Health Survey 2018. London: The Insight Network. https:// uploads– 5c7d4b5d314d163fecdc3706_Mental%20Health%20 Report%202018.pdf).

Project Details

The PGR will work collaboratively on a large repeated cross-sectional study exploring mental health of Coventry University’s global student population and engagement with the university well-being initiatives. The impact of the overall package of well-being support offered by CU will be demonstrated at a population level. The PhD will have an individual focus on either initiatives to support digital interventions for positive mental health/spiritual growth, or to improve well-being/health behaviour change for physical health of university students. Within these areas co-created interventions will be developed and piloted.


Tuition Fee




Additional allowances



Training and Development

The successful candidate will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills.

All researchers at Coventry University (from PhD to Professor) are part of the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities. 

Candidate Specification

Entry criteria for applicants to PHD 

  • A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average. 
    the potential to engage in innovative research and to complete the PhD within a 3.5 years
  • a minimum of English language proficiency (IELTS overall minimum score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component)

For further details see:

How to Apply

All applications require full supporting documentation, a covering letter, plus a 2000-word supporting statement showing how the applicant’s expertise and interests are relevant to the project.

To find out more about the project, please contact Ioannis Chapsos.

Apply to Coventry University