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New research — Understanding wellbeing challenges for university students during crisis disruption

A new study led by Dr Lynette Vernon of Edith Cowan University and funded by the NCSEHE investigates mental health and wellbeing amongst university students, and how the levels of support offered by institutions impacts students during periods of disruption.

For higher education students, maintaining optimum mental health and wellbeing is imperative to participate and engage in all aspects of learning. The repercussions from the disruptions of 2020 mean Australian university students have been under immense pressure to adapt to considerably different study conditions.

The findings from this research confirm that a significant proportion of university students—two out of three in the study—experienced high to very high levels of psychological distress.

Participants perceived that levels of psychological distress in students were higher for universities with lower levels of mental health and wellbeing support. Conversely, students had lower levels of psychological distress if they felt their university provided a sense of belonging and connectedness in addition to being authentic and consistent with their governance.

Key findings:

  • In 2020, 71 per cent of students surveyed cited “high” to “very high” levels of distress, up 54 per cent compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • Students with disability experienced very high levels of psychological distress compared to the general population of university students.
  • Students who experienced high levels of institutional support and collective support from within their university experienced lower levels of psychological distress.
  • Access to technology resources was vital for continued, stress-free study for students.
Recommendations for universities:
  • Implement a data collection method to identify areas of positive mental health and areas of emerging mental health risk.
  • Add additional questions about sense of belonging and connectedness to student evaluation surveys.
  • Use a suggested conceptual model to map and assess the effectiveness of their institutional support culture for student mental health.
  • Ensure students have access to technology and internet access.

This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Posted 31 March 2022 Posted in General