What’s Up With Everyone? Starting a conversation about students’ mental health

4 March 2021
Paul Crawford

Paul Crawford

Director, Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health
University of Nottingham
What's Up With Everyone? characters Merve, Charlie, Tai, Ashley and Alex

This University Mental Health Day, Professor Paul Crawford of the University of Nottingham discusses the new campaign What’s Up With Everyone? and explains why it is so important to support students’ mental health literacy.

After struggling through a difficult year, when social distancing and lockdowns brought significant challenges, I hope students will experience a boost on University Mental Health Day from our new, colourful campaign What’s Up With Everyone?
As Director of the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health, I have always considered that mental health is far too important to leave to clinical professionals.
To improve the mental health of a nation, you need everyone on board, not least our young people.
This is even more the case under the shadow of the pandemic, when we have witnessed a stark decline in the mental health of young people, as reported by key bodies including Mind, the NHS, the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England.
Adults tend to take over and leave young people passive or disempowered. That’s why developing our project with young people for young people was so important.

What’s Up With Everyone?

The campaign features five new characters from Academy Award-winning Aardman – creators of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep – and deals with the issues young people told us they found challenging in the transition to so-called adult life: loneliness, perfectionism, competitiveness, social media and independence.

The project is closely aligned with my mission to bring the public back into public health and find new ways for young people to cope with life’s challenges long before they might need to seek professional help for mental distress.
If young people know more about their mental health early on, further upstream, then they can adapt and perhaps avoid the hit.
We hope Merve, Charlie, Tai, Ashley and Alex will help start a conversation with young people about their mental wellbeing, with more information and advice available on the companion platform, www.whatsupwitheveryone.com.
We put young people centre stage from the start of What’s Up With Everyone? Now, to hear the scripted words and voices of our young people rather than actors as the characters is deeply moving.

Launching the campaign

You are probably wondering how I got such a fabulous opportunity to work with Aardman in the first place. After all, it is not every day that you get a chance to work with such an iconic company! 
Well, this was largely down to my work in pioneering the field of health humanities globally – using the arts and humanities to improve health and wellbeing (eg drawing, dancing, theatre, reading, singing etc).
In 2018, I was asked to set up and lead combined production, research, clinical and charitable teams to gain a £1m commissioned award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to advance mental health literacy among young people through animated storytelling.

Starting a conversation

Despite Covid-19, our young people, the Aardman production team, research teams at the universities of Nottingham, Loughborough and LSE, alongside charitable and clinical colleagues, not least Dr Dominique Thompson, Mental Health Foundation and Happy Space, all pulled together to present this entertaining new resource.
I hope that everyone visiting the platform will find it joyful, bright and informative on University Mental Health Day and beyond.
After such an awful year, let us enjoy a bit of Aardman magic and lift the mood!
Let us ask ‘What’s up with everyone?’ more often and care to listen to the answer.
To find out more about the campaign, please visit:

To learn more about Universities UK's whole university approach to mental health – which asks all universities to prioritise mental health across everything they do – please visit: Stepchange: Mentally Healthy Universities.

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