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 by the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA).
The Kei Te Pai? report surveyed nearly 2,000 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 NZUSA 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,” Gee said.
Over one month, 1,762 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.
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.
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.”
The Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction is a prime opportunity to have a national conversation around mental health, he said.
“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.
For many mental wellbeing is connected to how we live – being fulfilled, a sense of belonging, time for family and friends. If those needs are not met, effective and compassionate support is crucial.
However, in many institutions, pastoral support and care services have been cut back. NZUSA and the Tertiary Education Union are calling for action on the Government’s commitment to free counselling for under-25s, referenced in the Labour-Greens Confidence and Supply Agreement.