Days after the Federal Government announced a uni student fee hike, a national report has found students have higher rates of mental health problems than non-students, and being loaded with debt doesn’t help.
The report by the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, Orygen, lists some key reasons why uni students struggle with mental health. They include, lack of sleep, poor diet, being away from family, feelings of isolation among international students, academic pressure, uncertain graduate employment, and financial stress.
Some of this may be due to the destigmatisation of mental health, meaning more students are likely to go and see a counsellor.
To summarise: higher fees and job anxiety is creating student stress.
This is backed up by Jeremy Cass, a psychologist and manager of counselling services at RMIT university in Melbourne. He estimated there had been a 10 per cent increase in demand for counselling services at the university just in the past year.
1. Financial pressure
A Universities Australia report in 2013 found most uni students today are living under the poverty line and have 30 per cent more debt in 2012 than 2006.
Two-thirds of undergraduates were worried about their financial situation.
Students with financial stress were twice as likely to report mental illness compared to students with no financial stress.
2. ‘The rising bar’ and low graduate employment
There are over 1.4 million university students in Australia. The figure has been going up steeply since a 2008 review of higher education set a target of 40 per cent of 25-34 year olds having a bachelor degree or above by 2020. It’s gone up so steeply we may have already reached the target.
One consequence of the increase has been the value of a bachelor degree being partly diluted by the number of graduates. Where a bachelor degree may once have secured you a job, now you need a masters-level degree. Rates of graduate employment have also gone down.
3. Academic pressure
The 2008 review also set a target of more student enrolments from low socio-economic backgrounds. The Orygen report suggests these students may be at an increased risk of mental health problems due to academic and financial pressures.
Related to this has been the lowering of admission requirements – students who didn’t have the marks to get into a degree can now go.
4. Lonely international students
The last decade has also seen massive growth in international student numbers. They now make up about a quarter of the total and their fees help subsidise the places of domestic students. Education is our third biggest export, worth about $20 billion.
The Orygen report found that due to culture, language and academic practices international students are at increased risk of mental ill-health.
5. Counsellors are swamped
The student to counsellor ratio in Australia is a lot higher than in the United States – about 4,340 students per counsellor compared to 1,527 per counsellor.
A 2016 study found no large Australian university has enough counsellors to meet international or ANZSSA recommendations.
‘We need mental health programs in unis’
Among other recommendations, Orygen is calling on the Government to extend its youth mental health programs to university students.
Photo Source: Flickr Images