Therapies — 12 April 2017

Youth mental health workers in Bendigo say revelations up to two thirds of tertiary students are experiencing “high or very high” levels of psychological distress come as no surprise. Addictions-Counsellor

More than three quarters of respondents to a survey of university and TAFE students conducted by youth mental health foundation headspace reported feeling stressed, anxious or having a “low mood”, while more than a third reported having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

La Trobe University student counselling manager Jim Young said the findings were in line with what was already known about the rate of mental health complaints among higher education students, with adolescence and early adulthood a peak time for the appearance of mental health conditions.

“We know its high and it’s probably safe to say that it’s higher than the general population,” he said.

“Many students coming to university, of course, have these issues but they’ve not been formally diagnosed with them and have just kind of struggled along.”

headspace Bendigo takes referrals from students seeking help via the university, and senior mental health clinician Meg Bennett said many of them were undergoing a “big life transition” and experiencing multiple new life pressures, including study loads and increased financial responsibility.

“They’ve just finished year 12 and just moving to Bendigo and moving away form your support system at home and then I suppose exploring relationships, alcohol, maybe drugs,” she said.

“When we think of the demands for that age group it is really not a surprise that those results are there.”

But Ms Bennett said while there was still a stigma around mental health issues among some young people, the message that it is OK to seek help was getting out.

“I think there is still stigma, but I also think we have come a long way, especially in the last 10 years,” she said.

“Of course it is still out there but I think it’s great that people are slowly becoming more aware and that statistics like these do get released so people know they’re not alone, that mental health [issues are] really common but there is a lot we can do for it as well.”

While Mr Young agreed society was getting better at reducing stigma around mental illness, he said it was still a significant issue for some international students who may see it as “shameful”.

“Where I see the stigma is among some of our international students coming from other cultures where mental illness in those cultures is problematic, or viewed as problematic, so there can be cultural reasons why students may not disclose,” he said.

“We want to get the message out to people early on and reduce stigma.”

For help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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