Australian university mental health framework launched by Education Minister
Written by Penny Carlson
Senior Program Manager, Orygen
A new national university mental health framework provides guidance for universities and the mental health sector to support and enhance students’ mental health. Developed by Orygen with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and launched by Australia’s Minister for Education the Hon Dan Tehan MP, the framework emphasises the value of collaboration between students, universities and mental health providers to create better outcomes for university students.
The framework has been developed by Orygen over the past two years in consultation with student representatives, the university sector, mental health sector and government. Its development was prompted by Orygen’s 2017 policy report Under the radar: the mental health of Australian university students, which revealed that more than half of tertiary students aged 16–25 years reported high or very high psychological distress and 35.4 per cent had thoughts of self-harm or suicide. The framework’s launch comes at an even more critical time for the university and mental health sectors, with anxiety, stress and depression rising in particular among young people as a result of COVID-19.1
Orygen’s executive director, Professor Patrick McGorry, said the support of the Australian Government, particularly that of Minister Tehan and health minister Greg Hunt, had been critical to the development of the framework. ‘We know the consequences of mental ill-health and psychological stress among university student populations can include higher rates of early course exit, lower levels of academic achievement and longer-term social and economic disadvantage as a result,’ Professor McGorry said.
“This framework recognises the work universities are already doing to create learning environments that promote mental health and wellbeing and support students who are struggling. At the same time, it calls on both the university and mental health sectors to continue to strive for best practice, continuous improvement and innovation in university student mental health.”
The Australian University Mental Health Framework is a voluntary guide that universities and the mental health sector can use to identify and prioritise actions and areas for collaboration to support students. It is structured around six principles, with guidance provided around what each principle might look like in practice. Professor McGorry said that supports, for instance, could range from wellbeing programs, mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention activities through to mental health care and treatment.
The framework is supported by detailed case studies from Australian universities, which highlight examples of good practice in supporting student mental health and wellbeing.
On the framework, student representative Emily said “Education is important, but mental health should always come first. University studies are hard enough without the stresses of mental ill-health. There should be an evidence-based framework for all universities, because all students deserve to be supported – and now there is.”
The framework and supporting documents are available at orygen.org.au/aumhf.
1Tiller, E, Fildes, J, Hall, S, Hicking, V, Greenland, N, Liyanarachchi, D and Di Nicola, K, Mission Australia Youth Survey Report, 2020. Available from: https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/what-we-do/research-impact-policy-advocacy/youth-survey