There’s no doubt that there is a mental health problem in Australia. Aside from the various institutions we are informed about, the advertisements we constantly consume, and the shocking statistics; the knowledge of the friends/family and people I have heard about with mental illness, is alarming. The Black Dog institute states that 1 in 5 (20%) of Australians aged 16-85 will experience a mental health issue within the next year; the highest risk age group being 18-24 year olds. Furthermore, Universities Australia reported that the number of students enrolled in Australian universities in 2015 was 1,410,133 of which 1,046,835 were domestic students and 363,298 were international students. And according to the 2016 Census results, there were 1,421,595 15-19 year olds, and 1,599,793 20-24 year olds, living in Australia.
So what does this mean?
Over 50% of Australians aged 18-24 attend university. This is the same age bracket that poses the highest statistics for mental health issues. ASMA found that the percentage of university students experiencing very high levels of distress were significantly higher than those of the same age that were in the general population; the percentage difference being the comparison of 9.6% to one of 4.05%. Thus, Australian university students are statistically at a higher risk of suffering a mental health issue.
So what do we already know?
Headspace were able to recognise that there are mental health issues directly affecting students ability to perform their university requirements and work. In their survey, they found that major contributors to the lack of ability to complete university work included: Thoughts of self-harm or suicide: 35.4 per cent, Feeling stressed: 83.2 per cent, Lack of energy or motivation: 82.1 per cent, Feeling anxious: 79.0 per cent, Low mood: 75.8 per cent, Feelings of hopelessness/worthlessness: 59.2 per cent, Trouble sleeping: 55.6 per cent, Panic: 52.7 per cent.
Perhaps the strongest source that supports the research into this issue, is an investigation conducted by Orygen in 2017. They acknowledge minimal research has already been conducted, especially in Australia, but that the research that has been done does support a growing perception that Australian university students are experiencing higher (and continually rising) levels of stress and mental ill-health in comparison to other age brackets. This research identified several risk factors which effected university students’ mental health including academic pressures, financial pressures, relocation to participate in higher education (especially in rural/remote and international students), transitional stress between levels of education, drug and alcohol use, poor diet, and lack of sleep. They were also able to see trends between poor metal health and certain characteristics of individuals. For example 29% of those with physical disabilities reported having an anxiety disorder. As well as this, risk groups were identified; international students, rural/regional university students, law and medicine students, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. They drew a conclusion, as to why this may be the case, including that relocation may contribute to loneliness, and that a major life transition, such as the move from high school into university, would lead to a mental health decline; this was supported by the data of first year students.
Orygen however, did admit they were missing some elements of research in their study. They did not specify disability, delve into what mental illness/psychological distress was experienced within the ‘health and stress’ domain, or if an individual was/had been seeking help.
The statistics do not lie, this is a real issue in Australian society and it is crucial that is be further documented. For this reason, I will be conducting further research, specifically into the resources available to university students that assist in recognising, and treating mental health concerns and issues. We, as a nation, are able to recognise that there is a problem, and have endeavoured to address this, however we must ask, are we doing enough? Is what we are doing effective? Sydney University believe that standard education and marketing on mental health is not a very effective initiative. So what else is there? How else can we help?
For this reason, I have decided to conduct research on mental health services available to university students, and their effectiveness. The same research conducted by The University of Sydney estimates that approximately 75% of adult mental health conditions emerge by age 24; so our ability to diagnose, address, and treat this problem in younger adults, will have immense effects on the population as a whole. Therefore, it is paramount that we find effective ways, that create real change, and to be able to do this we must first assess the current systems in place. This research is an important tool which will be vital in facilitating positive change in the mental health of Australian university students. So watch this space as I investigate;
Are the current mental health services available to university students effective in addressing the issue of mental health?
For support and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011. Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2011. Cat. no. PHE 140 Canberra: AIHW., p 13-15.
Black Dog Institute. n.d.Facts and figures about mental health. .Keeping Health in Mind, p 1-4.
Eisenburg; Golberstein; Gollust, D; E; S, 2007. Help-Seeking and Access to Mental Health Care in a University Student Population. Medical Care-Official Journal of the Medical Care Section, American Public Health Association, July 2007- Volume 45 – Issue 7, p 594-601.
Healthy Sydney University Mental Wellbeing Working Group, n.d. A blueprint for student mental wellbeing in universities. Healthy Sydney University, p 1-2.
Orygen: The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, 2017. Under the radar: the mental health of Australian university students. Orygen: The National centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, p 10-52.
Wang; Lee; Tasha, S; S; Z, 2013. The Australian Context. University Student Mental Health, 1, p 5-13.