University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

A phenomenological exploration of the lived experiences of mature students with mental ill health studying for an Undergraduate Higher Education degree.

Sewell, Alexandra (2022) A phenomenological exploration of the lived experiences of mature students with mental ill health studying for an Undergraduate Higher Education degree. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education. ISSN 1758-1184 (In Press)

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A qualitative approach was adopted to explore lived experiences of mental ill health for mature
students in Higher Education. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) explores the
experience of Higher Education mature students who self-identify as having mental ill health. Five
participants were interviewed about their personal stories and perceptions.
Mental ill health is on the rise amongst undergraduate students and has been investigated using
both positivist / quantitative and exploratory / qualitative research methods. However, the lived
experiences of mature students who have mental ill health have not been directly investigated. A
limited research literature suggests that challenges particular to mature undergraduate students can
cause mental ill health or exacerbate existing needs. Further research exploring the lived
experiences of mature undergraduate students with mental ill health is thus warranted.
The study found that participants interpreted the experience of mental ill health as very difficult
with no redeeming features reported. A lack of control over mental ill health experiences was
contrasted with attempts to control mental ill health, whether successful or not, in order to progress
with their learning. Participants conceptualised being mature undergraduate students as a last
chance succeed in life, education, or a career. This increased stress that interacted with their mental
ill health symptoms.
Research limitations/implications
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) calls for a small, homogenised participant
sample. This limits generalisation of the research findings. Recruitment criteria welcomed
participants who self-identified as experiencing mental ill health, leading to potential bias in
reported lived experiences.
Practical implications
The research findings highlight the value of considering the lived experience of students
experiencing mental ill health whilst studying. Whilst general approaches to support can be
successful, this research demonstrates how Higher Educational professionals must orient towards
an ideographic perspective when considering how to provide individualised, inclusive support for
students experiencing mental ill health. A discussion on how this can be actualised is provided.
Social implications
The research provides impetus to the perspective that students have unique lived experiences of
mental ill health, and that this is particularly so for mature undergraduate students. A key social
implication of this is that, whilst positive based, one-size fits most, interventions for students xperiencing mental ill health are useful, Higher Education educators must also be cognizant of
unique, dynamic experiences each student will have. As such, there is a need to move towards a
relational, dialogic approach when considering and designing tailored support.
Originality / value
Mature undergraduate students who experience mental ill health are at risk of not reaching their
potential. Yet despite this, exploration of mature undergraduate student's experiences of mental ill
health is nascent in the academic literature. Research considering their unique perspectives as an
avenue to develop joint compassionate understandings and interactions between students and
educators are additionally scant. The current study begins to address this dearth of exploration and
commentary. It provides an idiosyncratic, novel inquiry into this important issue.
Plain language summary
Mature undergraduate students can experience mental health needs that may have a negative
impact on their educational attainment in Higher Education. Understanding their perspectives and
opinions can help educators build positive relationships with them to better facilitate their learning

Item Type: Article
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
Depositing User: Alexandra Sewell
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2022 14:47
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2022 14:47

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