Almost all students affected by symptoms of mental health problems, NUS study finds

Just 27 per cent of respondents accessed on-campus counselling services.

The report cover

Over 98 per cent of students have reported that symptoms of poor mental health impacted their study between 2015–2016, according to the National Union of Students’ (NUS) 2016 National Student Wellbeing Survey.

The survey, conducted in the latter half of 2016 by NUS with the support of headspace, focuses on the mental health of Australia’s tertiary students as well as stressors such as finances, accommodation, and work.

Key findings included that roughly 70 per cent of students surveyed rated their mental health as “fair” or “poor” — the two lowest values on the scale — yet just 27 per cent of respondents accessed on-campus counselling services. Of those, 24 per cent of those rated their experience as negative.

For students who had failed a subject, two thirds reported difficulty balancing study and other commitments, nearly half cited health problems and just under one third said financial issues were impacting their study.

The survey was conducted online between August and November last year and gathered 3303 responses, including 2637 from 16–25 year olds.

It demonstrated that on top of academic and financial stress, students are increasingly struggling with their mental health.

“Australian universities, to varying degrees, are trying to address these damning statistics on mental health,” Noa Zulman, SRC disabilities officer, told Honi.

“However, in many cases — and particularly at USyd — mental health services such as CAPS (Counselling and Psychological Services) are woefully inadequate.”

“The amount of staff and the remit of CAPS is arguably too narrow, with only [six] sessions available per student, and focuses heavily on study skills, rather than underlying mental health issues.”

Zulman also said, “Other initiatives, such as puppy therapy, have been really effective in raising awareness around mental health at universities, but do little to offer long-term or ongoing support to students who struggle beyond STUVAC.”

To support its students’ mental health, Zulman believes the University should invest more in CAPS and reform the “needlessly bureaucratic” special considerations system as it “engenders much anxiety for students.”

The survey noted such issues, concluding, “on-campus health and counselling services have a high level of need to meet” but that “support for mental health and wellbeing is an essential component to enable tertiary students to deal with the stressors of university life and maintain their academic progress.”

Correction: The print version of this article stated that students only receive three CAPS sessions. CAPS has since informed Honi that students receive up to six sessions per academic year.