02:46pm Thursday 19 October 2017

Mental health problems common in students

For the past six years, University of Wollongong researchers Dr Coralie Wilson and Associate Professor Peter Caputi have been examining the mental health and wellbeing of 1,800 (i.e. more than 300 per year) first year UOW students.

Each year the researchers and their research students have systematically assessed levels of university student’ stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thinking on standard clinical measures.

”Seeking appropriate help is a key part of overall health and wellbeing so we have also assessed students’ help-seeking behaviours, and reasons for not seeking help, for each of these problems”, Dr Wilson said.

Each year, our results have found that approximately one of three young men and three of five young women report symptoms of stress that are moderate to severe — one of two young men and almost all young women report symptoms of anxiety and depression that are moderate to severe. Approximately one of 20 young men and one of 20 young women report thinking seriously about suicide from “once a month to almost every day”.

For many, experiencing these symptoms is associated with reluctance to seek help or connect with people, including family and friends as well as doctors and other health professionals.

In three studies that are soon to be published by the researchers, and co-authored by Professor David Kavanagh and Anna Cavanagh, Dr Wilson and Professor Caputi case-matched their current data to that reported by university students from 10 years ago. A sample of 1,300 students were case matched.

“Our results suggest that reluctance to seek help is essentially a normal process that occurs as young people become distressed, and one that has not changed significantly in the past 10 years,” Dr Wilson said.

“Our results also suggest that the process of becoming unwell itself acts as a stronger barrier to staying connected, seeking help, and becoming well again, than other reasons provided by university students.”

While their research program is ongoing, and far more is yet to be learned about the reasons for why young people do and do not engage in help-seeking and wellbeing behaviours, there are several key messages that the research has uncovered.

“The first is that it is common when feeling stressed, anxious or depressed to withdraw from those around us. If we feel ourselves withdrawing, the best thing we can do is to do something to reconnect.

“The second message is that it is more common than not for students to feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. Students are not alone in how they feel and there are things they can do, such as exercise, and places they can go around the university and online for good information, support and advice,” Dr Wilson said.

Dr Wilson is an Expert Advisor for the Lifeline Australia Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Results from her research program have informed the Lifeline Educational Suite for over a decade and can be downloaded at http://www.lifeline.org.au/

For more information best to contact Dr Coralie Wilson by email in the first instance at cwilson@uow.edu.au


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