Students and Mental Health: Your Role and Our Strategy
JUN, 2019
Mental Health
By Bronwyn Duhigg, Communications Officer in the Division of Student Life.
While as academics our focus is on teaching and inspiring our students to excel, it’s important to remember that a healthy student mindset is a key starting point for future success. With at least one in four tertiary-age students in Australia likely to experience a common mental health problem in any one year, it’s valuable for all teaching staff to know how to recognise and refer students for appropriate support to ensure optimal student success.

Understanding the mental health reality of tertiary students

A recent article from Bupa, Deakin’s health and care partner, Mental health awareness for the classroom, quoted Dr Clare Kelly from Mental Health First Aid Australia, who stated that ‘tertiary students have a higher rate of depression, anxiety and stress broadly than the rest of the population of the same sort of age’. The article goes on to highlight that significant stressors for students include financial worries, academic performance, time pressures, workload and perceived competition.

Specific student cohorts, such as law and medical students, often experience higher rates of depression and anxiety, while international students can have the added burden of studying in a second language, meeting strong family expectations and justifying the economic outlay of studying in Australia.

Relocating for study is also identified as a risk factor for tertiary students – it can often be their first time living away from established support networks and, potentially, existing support services.

Mental health trends at Deakin

Many Deakin services that support student mental health have experienced increased demand and utilisation over the past few years – for example, the increased registrations with Deakin’s Disability Resource Centre (DRC) for mental illness. In 2017, 46% of all DRC registrations were students with mental illness and this increased to 53% in 2018. The number of student contacts with Deakin’s Counselling and Psychological Support (CAPS) services also saw an increase of 46% between 2018 and 2019. The complexity of cases is also increasing, with many students managing multiple health and social challenges, resulting in the need for greater cross-service coordination.

Given students can be embarrassed, scared or ashamed to seek help for mental health problems, it is anticipated the number experiencing such difficulties would be higher than what current services are seeing.  

“Research shows that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome – so try to speak with them (students) as soon as you can.”

Referring your students for professional help

So what are the signs that someone is struggling to cope, and how confident are you of being alert to this in the classroom or when dealing with students one-on-one?

If you’ve noticed a student is struggling to concentrate, is easily agitated or withdrawn, has changed their demeanour or attitude, or is suddenly performing below par, it’s possible they might be experiencing poor mental health or dealing with a mental health problem. Finding the time and space to speak with them about the changes you’ve noticed and giving them information about support services are really helpful ways to support your students’ mental wellbeing needs.

Research shows that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome – so try to speak with them as soon as you can. If the student doesn’t want to speak with you and you’re concerned about their mental health, you can speak with a Deakin CAPS Manager for further advice.

Deakin offers a range of services for both staff and students that might ease the pressure or establish a road to recovery. You may wish to refer students to:

Counselling and Psychological Support (CAPS)free, confidential psychological support for Deakin Students from highly skilled psychologists and social workers.

Ask Counselling – a website for Deakin students to ask questions that are answered by CAPS counsellors. Collated by topics such as anxiety, loneliness or family problems, with students able to submit specific questions and receive an answer within 72 business hours.

Deakin Medical Centres – medical appointments with qualified doctors or nurses on campus.

International Student Advisers – advice, support and encouragement to international students on a range of matters.

Safer Community – for disclosures of sexual assault or harassment, or to report family violence and inappropriate or threatening behaviour.

Multifaith chaplains – compassionate support to everyone, whether religious or not. They also offer safe spaces to pray, reflect, or discuss.

Disability Resource Centre – provides information and support services for students with a disability, health or mental health condition that affects their study or participation in university life.

LGBTIQ+ Community – a group of staff and students who align themselves with, and advocate on behalf of, staff and students of diverse sexes, sexuality and gender.

For emergency 24-hour support – Lifeline or SuicideLine.

Tapping into online resources: Deakin’s eWellbeing Hub

All students can benefit from a focus on their wellbeing. Why not take some time out at the start or end of your next class to highlight our eWellbeing Hub? Just a click away in DeakinSync, it’s a collection of helpful tools to help students and staff stay healthy, motivated, in control and happy. From mental health to physical health, keeping fit or learning to relax, and eating well and staying safe, there’s a range of convenient apps, advice and resources that will appeal to everyone.

Perhaps you could even try ending a challenging tutorial with a session of progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness meditation, or have a group chat about time management and developing study resilience. Whatever technique or approach appeals to you, remember that a healthy student is just as important as a successful one.

Deakin’s Mental Health Strategy

The product of significant research and consultation, the Deakin Mental Health Strategy is our commitment to promoting student mental health and wellbeing, and recognising this as a core institution-wide priority. The strategy is aligned to the Deakin Student Learning and Experience Plan, and aims to value and optimise student mental health and wellbeing, and minimise the adverse effects of mental health problems on learning and participation in University life.

Its guiding principles include:

  • Adopting a coordinated and whole-of-university approach.
  • Adopting a holistic perspective.
  • Taking a normalising approach across the mental health continuum.
  • Being evidence-based and informed by best practice.
  • Being student-centred.
  • Proactively advocating for change and taking action.
  • Recognising the value of strengthened partnerships with key organisations.

We’ll be launching the strategy later this year, so stay tuned for more information about this vital initiative and your role in bringing it to life.

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