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Reality of tertiary students’ mental health

10 July 2018

New study exposes the reality of tertiary students’ mental health

Adjusting to tertiary study, feelings of loneliness and academic anxiety have been identified as major triggering factors of depression, stress and anxiety amongst students, in a new study released today by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA).

The Kei Te Pai? Report surveyed nearly 2000 students on their lived experiences in relation to mental health. The study is the first of its kind on tertiary students’ mental health in New Zealand, and follows similar climate studies conducted by student organisations internationally.

Kei Te Pai? scratches beneath the surface on the trials and tribulations of student life, a memorable yet stressful time in many people's’ lives,’ says National President Jonathan Gee. ‘We know that mental health is a serious issue among our students as it is in society. This research gives us a better understanding about why student mental health issues occur and the implications of this.’

Over one month, 1762 students responded to the survey, which asked questions about students’ lived experiences including their education, living situation, relationship status as well as assessing their level of psychological distress on the Kessler 10 scale. It also asked about their experience of tertiary institution mental health services, and their mental health history.

‘What stood out to us in this survey was the diverse range of student voices who participated. They reflected on a whole raft of life experiences that affected their mental health while in tertiary study,’ says Gee.

Of the respondents who completed the survey, 56 percent of them considered dropping out of tertiary study. The main reasons for students considering dropping out were feeling overwhelmed, living with mental illness and fearing failure.

‘Work [is] making me do too many hours but I can’t quit because then I wouldn’t have enough money to make it through the week, but then I do the hours and I can slowly feel myself getting more stressed and tired, and more behind in my school work.’ said one respondent to a question regarding triggering factors of depression, stress and anxiety.

As well as the struggle of balancing student life, Gee says ‘the culture of tertiary education has become a highly individualised experience, and seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The pressure to succeed means that we have forgotten the important role of tertiary education in building community.’

One respondent said ‘[I have] no community that I can rely on and feel a part of, [which is] the greatest cause of my anxiety and depression.’

Students enter tertiary education because they have high hopes for themselves and for their contribution to New Zealand. Gee says ‘in order to help students succeed in their future endeavours, we must address the mental health crisis that is stopping students from reaching their full potential.’

The Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction is a prime opportunity to have a national conversation around mental health. ‘It is clear to us as student representatives, that mental health is a much discussed and cared about issue within student communities and society as a whole.’

Action needs to be taken now. ‘We are calling for a culture change within our communities so that discussing mental health, accessing support services, and practicing self-care is a normalised part of everyday conversations’, says Gee.

NZUSA is also calling for action on the Government’s commitment to free counselling for under-25s, referenced in the Labour-Greens Confidence and Supply Agreement.

‘To make a meaningful change in the mental health of tertiary students, it will take all of us; students, staff, management and government working together to make a difference.’

The report can be accessed here.


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