Notifying students’ emergency contacts when there are serious mental health concerns

This research is led by Dr Myles-Jay Linton

Around 75 per cent of adults with mental difficulties first experience symptoms before the age of 25, so it is important for the higher education sector to understand the experiences of young people, and the pressures they face.

Some students face significant challenges when moving into higher education, and throughout their time at university, which can have an impact on their mental health. To provide extra support whilst studying, the University of Bristol introduced a new policy that invites students to name an emergency contact (such as a parent) who the university can contact if there are serious mental health concerns. This policy among others formed part of the most recent Student Mental Health Strategy.

Research is underway investigating how universities involve families and emergency contacts as part of the support network of students experiencing the most serious mental health difficulties.


This study aims to:

  • identify which students are most and least likely to opt-in to the university being able to notify emergency contacts when there are serious mental health concerns
  • understand the barriers and facilitators to opting in, among students
  • investigate how the policy has been implemented and used, to share learnings with other universities and the wider sector.

What we have found so far

So far, the study has shown that students who are least likely to opt in to Consent to Contact may be those who are at a higher risk for anxiety and depression.


The University of Bristol supports students with a range of disabilities including mental health difficulties, the primary focus of this research. This work seeks to explore the consent to contact policy from multiple stakeholder perspectives (staff, students and emergency contacts) as part of an inclusive ‘whole institution approach’.

Impact on policy

The insights generated by this research are informing policy and practice within the University through targeted knowledge sharing activities with staff and students.

We will produce a guidance document that will inform other universities and university leaders about how Consent to Contact has worked at Bristol and what lessons have been learned so far.