Becoming a university student can be an incredibly stressful transition in a young person’s life, most will even have an experience with a mental illness during their studies.
“When you look at the range of mental health distress in university aged students, its significantly higher than their comparative age group in the general population,” said Rowena Saheb, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Coordinator at Western Sydney University.
Research has suggested that at least one in four of Australia’s 1.4 million university students, will experience mental ill-health in any given year, according to Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.
20-year-old Sarah*, is one of these students, where she was studying a double degree in Animal Science and Zoology at Western Sydney University, before she deferred for a year due to her anxiety.
“One of the main problems was a lot of pressure with the assignments, it was all really stressful and I had to take a lot of time off because I was sick, and so I fell behind and then the stress of that just got too much,” Sarah said.
Sarah was diagnosed with anxiety when she was in her eleventh year of high school, but says it became harder to cope during her time at university.
“Students who experience depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders perform more poorly in class,” Kognito, a health simulation company, stated in their 2015 report. “Depressed and anxious students are also more likely to be absent, take semesters off, and/or drop out of school.”
Headspace, a National Youth Mental Health Foundation in Australia, states on their website, that the rate of young Australians reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress, is more than three times higher than it was 10 years ago.
Their annual report in 2017 also revealed that 56% of their patients are between the ages 15 and 20 years old, with 27.8% of them seeking help for anxiety and 27.4% for depression.
“The figures are too high to be ignored or not be taken as serious warning that the mental wellbeing of our future generation needs to be prioritised, nurtured and safeguarded,” said Jason Trethowan, the CEO of Headspace, on their website.
There can be many risk factors that contribute to the rising figures of student’s mental ill-health, where known causes of stress include learning how to balance the academic requirements, meeting new people, moving away from home, and managing financial issues.
“When these stressors increase and expectations at uni such as exams, assessments or other requirements place pressure on students, mental health issues can emerge such as anxiety, high levels of stress or other mental health issues,” said Emma Taylor, the Mental Health Advisor at Western Sydney University.
There are also number of other populations within the university student community that are at higher risk of mental ill-health. A report by Orygen in 2017, found that males, students with lower socio-economic status backgrounds, and students with current mental health problems, had the most difficulty seeking out help.
Another potential issue that the Western Sydney University student community may face, is the fact that over 68% of the students are the first in their family to attend university, according to a report by the university.
The issue of this is the isolation, as nobody within that family may understand what university life is like, and may not be able to provide the support that that student needs.
International students are also at risk when facing cultural differences, where different cultural beliefs about mental illness may influence the type of treatment that is sought and how mental illness is addressed and managed, according to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 2012.
To help students to try and cope with their mental health issues while studying their degrees, it is important that they can identify their issues, know where to get help, and understand that they are not alone.
As part of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Month activations at Western Sydney University, the Mental Health and Wellbeing team partners with organisations like Headspace Parramatta, to try and raise more awareness and encourage students to learn more about what they are experiencing.
“Connecting students to support, maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle and enabling students and staff to reach the goals of graduation for all students is our goal,” said Taylor.
They also hold a number of events like Open Days, Service Fairs, Mental Health Month, and Orientation Week, where information is shared to communicate to students about resources and services they can access.
“Acknowledging that every student has their story and listening to the needs of each student is valuable to ensure we can create services that are useful and relevant,” said Taylor.
Disclaimer: Sarah* has requested her name be changed due to privacy reasons.