Universities Need An Education In Youth Mental Health

By Minto Felix (Mental health advocate, co-founder of the Australians for Mental Health campaign) on Huffington Post Australia

“Australian universities demonstrated commendable leadership over the course of 2016 in tackling the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

“Another pressing issue that requires the full focus and will of the university community over the coming months and years is the alarmingly high levels of mental ill-health among tertiary aged students. It is now a well-known fact that over 75 percent of all mental illness emerges in individuals before the age of 25, and 1 in 4 Australians aged 16-24 are living with a mental disorder.

“In collaboration with the Australian Human Rights commission, the leaders of all 39 Australian universities launched the nation’s first ever survey to identify university student experiences of sexual violence, and released a supporting online campaign Respect. Now. Always, to promote help seeking and reporting of offences. This campaign also coincided with the release of ‘The Hunting Ground’ documentary, which was screened across many Australian universities and paved the way for a national conversation on this issue.

Such an unprecedented period of focus allowed many universities around the country to strengthen their sexual harassment policies, initiate new prevention programs, and make substantive progress in the elimination of sexual violence on university campuses. Although much work remains to be done, this approach is a clear example of what can be achieved when senior leaders within the tertiary sector, together with the support of students and external bodies, come together to take real action on an issue of critical importance.

Over 75 percent of all mental illness emerges in individuals before the age of 25, and 1 in 4 Australians aged 16-24 are living with a mental disorder.

Another pressing issue that requires the full focus and will of the university community over the coming months and years is the alarmingly high levels of mental ill-health among tertiary aged students. It is now a well-known fact that over 75 percent of all mental illness emerges in individuals before the age of 25, and 1 in 4 Australians aged 16-24 are living with a mental disorder.

A significant proportion of young people grappling with mental illness are already at university, or have the potential to be participating in education at this level with the appropriate supports in place.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In an educational landscape that is increasingly internationalised, and with universities widening their admission policies to enable students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds to access tertiary education, a diverse range of emotional and social challenges come up.

Ultimately, universities are the principal incubators of the future leaders and contributors of our society, and therefore, the services and interventions that are in place to promote the mental health and wellbeing of students need to be of the highest quality.

Through a Freedom of Information request, the leading universities in the United Kingdom were called on last week to share how much they each spend on mental health services per each student annually. The disparity in expenditure between these institutions are staggering, with Oxford spending £48.25 per student while the University of Central Lancashire contributes a meagre £4.64 per student.

While funding tells an important part of the story, it should also be noted that there is no government or sector-wide policy that specifies a common set of expectations for universities in the United Kingdom around their responsibilities in this area.

The mental health and wellbeing of young Australians is far too serious an issue for it not to have clear, nationwide, and binding leadership.

In Australia, even less is known about the mental health policies and models of care that are at work within our universities. While successive governments over the past decade have been focussed on building the capability of the mental health sector at large, particularly with the development of nationwide services such as Headspace and beyondblue, settings such as universities and schools, where young people spend the most amount of their time, have received little to no meaningful attention.

As a consequence, this has left universities to their own devices, to implement policies and support services that they feel are appropriate to their student population within the context of their organisational capacity and other priorities. While such an approach has yielded a wide variety of innovative strategies over the years, the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians is far too serious an issue for it not to have clear, nationwide, and binding leadership.

Despite this absence of a clear policy direction from the government, Australian universities are already well poised to advance the nation’s mental wealth through improving mental health within the youth population. One such example is Monash University, who were awarded the World Health Organisation’s Healthy Workplace Award from a pool of organisations from around the world, for the delivery of a wide range of programs and services, including in the area of mental health support for its students and staff. Monash has also embedded resilience and mindfulness training into some of its most academically rigorous courses, delivers online learning to students, staff and indeed the wider community on these same topics free of cost, and actively participates in mental health awareness days and campaigns. However, Monash University’s efforts needs to be the standard across all universities, and not the exception.

Australia’s educational institutions play a vital role in nurturing a generation of young people to be healthy and resilient.

Across all Australian universities, there should be a clear and consistent requirement in place for what services and programs they are required to provide for students. A robust policy needs to be developed to hold universities to account about their responsibilities in this area and to provide greater direction around the way in which these institutions partner with the public mental health system and other service providers in the provision of care. Screening for emerging illnesses and an understanding of overall student morale should be inextricably connected to the planning and coordination of services and programs at the university. Cultures around academic expectations and assessments need reviewing so as to ensure that it drives students to success, rather than to perpetuate dysfunctional behaviours and distress.

If Australia is to successfully maximise the opportunities afforded by the knowledge economy and harness the talents of a highly skilled labour force, its educational institutions play a vital role — not only in developing the skills, capabilities and minds of the future generation — but in nurturing a generation of young people to be healthy and resilient.

As can be witnessed in the way in which universities are proactively tackling the scourge of sexual violence, and in making the campuses where students learn and interact with each other safer, substantive progress in this area is achievable. Underpinned by government leadership, strengthening the capacity of universities to care for its most important assets, its students, must be a priority of the greatest importance.”

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11 thoughts on “Universities Need An Education In Youth Mental Health

  1. Yes, I agree that mental health should receive more focus in universities and, I think, in schools. Kids and teens are not being equipped to deal with the stress of exams and of modern life in general. I think another factor is that both schools and universities generally have little regard for the students’ mental health and just pile them up with work and exams, leading to many becoming completely overwhelmed. The huge focus on academic success above all else is also not very healthy. In my view, the entire structure and methodology of education could do with being examined in that light.

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  2. I agree. The importance of viewing mental health as something to work on is not stressed to Australians. When travelling to universities overseas I was amazed by their wellness education centres and recreation centres and the huge amount of money they put into helping students with balance their lifestyles. By having such infrastructure as this, it encourages students in particular to think of wellness on a holistic level that includes mental, physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, environmental and financial wellness. Mental health is something to work on and Australia needs to educate more people to do so. Check out my blog to see more of my thoughts about this topic! – HW

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting! All feedback is much appreciated.
      Those are some interesting observations, though I believe the U.S. certainly needs improvement in this as well. Students and administrations continue to stigmatize and even engage in institutional discrimination towards those with mental illness.

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      1. Yes, I completely agree. We all have a long way to go. Currently at my university it was surveyed that 74% of students were unaware that we had counselling and psychological services on campus. There is a big problem of little awareness and little care to change it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. May Monash University’s example influence many others, not only in Australia, but across the world.

    I live in the U.S. I’ll admit that my university days date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. I am ashamed to say that I have no idea how much progress, if any, has been made in supporting the mentally ill at universities in my state and across my country.

    I do remember seeking out mental healthcare at my university (a very large university). I recall going to the student health center and telling them…I don’t quite remember exactly…but I believe I was probably having a severe mixed episode of bipolar disorder, and was at the least feeling suicidal. They did send me to a university psychiatrist, but I recall the session being 10 mins max. I was then pushed out the door with a prescription for Prozac. Not exactly the right choice for a person with bipolar disorder type 1 who was on no other medications. I don’t recall there being a follow-up appointment scheduled, or if there were refills. I certainly wasn’t referred to any therapy. I took the medication for max three days, and believe I switched fully to either high level hypomania or even full blown mania. I think I stayed that way for a while, because a number of abnormal experiences followed through the end of the school year.

    I have read again and again how important it is to diagnose bipolar (or any mental illness) as early as possible. Not being properly medicated for bipolar disorder for long periods of time worsens the course of the illness. Though I did seek help for depressions a few times in my mid 20s, it wasn’t until I was 32 that I finally received a proper diagnosis and the right type of medications. In the psychiatric hospital. That fact has affected my life since. If only that psychiatrist at the university asked the right questions and cared (or at least wasn’t inept).

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  4. Reblogged this on Mister Journalism: "Reading, Sharing, Discussing, Learning" and commented:
    Universities Need An Education In Youth Mental Health
    by thecatalystsforchange
    By Minto Felix (Mental health advocate, co-founder of the Australians for Mental Health campaign) on Huffington Post Australia
    “Australian universities demonstrated commendable leadership over the course of 2016 in tackling the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

    “Another pressing issue that requires the full focus and will of the university community over the coming months and years is the alarmingly high levels of mental ill-health among tertiary aged students. It is now a well-known fact that over 75 percent of all mental illness emerges in individuals before the age of 25, and 1 in 4 Australians aged 16-24 are living with a mental disorder.”

    Read more of this post

    thecatalystsforchange | March 1, 2017 at 5:24 PM | Tags: Australia, Mental health, Mental Health Awareness, mental illness, university, youth | Categories: Mental health, Psychology, Repost|Share | URL: http://wp.me/p7jKej-H7

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  5. I agree. We need mental health education right now! Educating people is the only way to deal depression and anxiety on a large scale. It should be mandatory in institutes to have interactive conversations regarding a student’s mental health.

    Liked by 1 person

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