Research — 07 April 2017
A new study has found levels of anxiety among TAFE and university students are reaching “alarming” levels, with 35 per cent experiencing self-harm or suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months.
New research has painted a dire picture of mental health issues among tertiary students. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

New research has painted a dire picture of mental health issues among tertiary students. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

The research, by leading mental health group Headspace and the National Union of Students, surveyed 2,600 Australian tertiary students between the ages of 17 and 25.

“We know that self-harm rates are increasing, with one in three experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm over the last 12 months,” Headspace CEO Jason Trethowan said.

“Relatively speaking, the number is extremely high and its a point of real concern.”

Increased workload, looming deadlines, relationship problems and financial hardships are some of the common challenges associated with young people making the jump from high school to tertiary education.

But the latest results show many students are struggling to cope.

“They might have moved out of home for the first time, and might have greater responsibilities financially [or] domestically,” Mr Trethowan said.

“The changing external factors compared to the past decade creates an environment, where people need to be more aware of their mental health.

“I just want young people to recognise that you’re not alone, mental health is a problem across the country, getting onto of your issues, there is help out there, so seek help.”

In the survey, 65 per cent of the students also reported high to very high levels of psychological stress, and more than half suffered panic attacks, had trouble sleeping and experienced feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

‘I felt completely paralysed’

Amelia Walters, 18, a Brisbane high school leaver who moved interstate to take up a scholarship at Melbourne University, can identify with that challenge.

After starting her studies, it did not take long for Amelia to become overwhelmed by the pressure of keeping her scholarship.

“My life here rested on that academic performance essentially,” she said.

“I felt completely paralysed … At that point I could see it wasn’t only affecting me but the people around me.

“I started losing a sense of myself. Feeling like I’d lost myself. I noticed it probably in the first month of my studies.

“[Then] I got to the point where I felt so paralysed by the different responsibilities I felt to myself … I was no longer able to engage in my studies.”

Suffering anxiety and depression, Amelia did not initially feel comfortable talking to other people about her mental state, but eventually sought counselling.

“For the first time I feel like a university student, I finally feel secure and have a sense of where I’m going,” Amelia said.

“I now define my sense of success in terms of the fact I feel well within myself rather than achieving a certain grade.”

A woman smiles at the camera.

Amelia Walters, 18, has experienced anxiety and depression while studying at university. (Supplied: Headspace)


If you or anyone you know needs help:

This piece was originally published on ‘ABC News’ April 6, 2017.


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