An ecological model for university environment effects on life outcomes

Proposed ecological model for university environment effects on life outcomes

By Kieran Balloo

Ecological models for understanding health behaviour have proliferated in recent years. Ecological models move away from focusing on individual characteristics alone to consider the role that the environment plays in shaping behaviours. We are using this type of framework to understand impacts on life outcomes in the #StudentWellLives Project. In the figure above, we illustrate our proposed ecological model.

We suggest that mental health during adolescence is likely to shape long-term outcomes. However, whilst mental health problems may occur at an individual level, they may be influenced by individuals’ social identity characteristics, reciprocally and intersectionally, in how they predict these outcomes. We discussed in an earlier blog post, on modelling inequalities in an intersectional framework, how social identities are just proxies for systemic privilege and oppression. So fitting with an ecological model, these identities may also be relevant to think about being at a societal, rather than individual, level. We also propose that these aspects during adolescence will influence whether young people will go to university and the type of environment they choose to go to. During university, that environment may then influence their mental health at that point in time. The exact characteristics of the university environment we are exploring are discussed in our earlier blog posts on the type of environment data that universities should collect and belonging and wellbeing in higher education. For example, we noted that participating in sports or extra-curricular activities may be beneficial for certain students’ wellbeing, so the built environments of universities may act as protective factors (or risk factors) for students’ mental health. We anticipate that all of this will impact on life outcomes. Life outcomes have already been found to be influenced by adolescent mental health (which is at an individual level), in terms of impacts on mental health during young adulthood, education and employment outcomes. Therefore, the #StudentWellLives Project aims to draw on the above ecological framework to consider factors beyond the individual.

We would be interested to hear about how we might adapt the model further, so please leave a comment below or connect with us on Twitter: @uniwelllives #StudentWellLives.

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