“Going to university coincides with a period of immense change and personal development. We know that one in four young people are going to have an issue with their mental health. I just felt it was important to break the stigma attached to things like anxiety and depression.”
Those are the words of James Connolly, a student at the Australian National University. He was the president of the Students Association. He delivered a speech to students in March encouraging them to increase their awareness of mental health issues. According to The Australian, he admitted to the audience of 2,000 students that he suffered from depression and anxiety.
There are many reasons for why depression and anxiety are rife in universities. There is the weight on the pocket of the student paying fees and also the pressure of finding accommodation close to the university. Then there is getting to class on time and studying for that class test and exam. Being an upstanding student is a factor too; all are taxing on a student’s mental health.
The workload in a particular stream of study may be more onerous than in others; it is often the case for engineering students around the world. In an academic environment that demands the students’ undivided attention some mental health fallout can result.
“Australia and the rest of the world are finally starting to realize that ‘mental health means mental wealth’. Seventy-five per cent of mental ill health emerges before the age of 25 and if it doesn’t kill, it disables or reduces the human and economic potential of generations of young people. The personal, social and economical costs to human society are enormous - estimated to erode $16 trillion from the world economy in the next 20 years; double the impact of cancer.”
Those are the words of Benjamin Veness, one of Australia’s emerging leaders in health and public policy, writing on behalf of the William Churchill Trust. He compiled a report entitled: The Wicked Problem of University Student Mental Health. He has made contributions to the University of Sydney, highlighting the real threat of degrading mental health issues in universities.
International & Online
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) in the United Kingdom has also published some worrying statistics. They reported that 1,180 students, who had mental health issues, left university in the 2014/15 academic year in the United Kingdom. This was a 210% increase on the 2009/10 figures when only 380 students dropped out of university due to mental health issues.
As more data is produced, and statistics calculated, institutions will no doubt find that steps will need to be taken to ensure students’ are able to ‘stay the course’.
It will be interesting to note how the changes in learning approaches and methodologies impact the mental resilience in students. Tertiary education and training continues to move towards the use of virtual platforms; in the future a vast number of students will be shunning lectures in brick-and-mortar institutions.
Bonny Barr of Creighton University believes that if campus-based students are anything to go by, support for online students is essential. She has published her opinions in the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration said:
“Providing online student services is an important component of these distance programs and is often required by accredited bodies. Health and wellness services for online students are especially essential, as college students are accessing mental health services at increasing rates on college campuses.”
Barr writes that faculty of online institutions should look for any unusual behaviors from students who report to online lecturers, and of course, poor academic performance may be an indicator of emotional stress as well.
The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is an example of a college which has adopted an online learning platform. To ensure students remain engaged; to counter any sense of isolation or indeed the sense that they are mere numbers in an institution, EIT uses a live, interactive approach to eLearning. Their lecturers are streamed to students in real time and these teachers are available to discuss the content. They also employ dedicated Learning Support Officers to guide and encourage students through their courses and degrees.
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