Just 3 months after the government initiated a new mental health budget package for Australian youths in schools, university students have been left questioning if they’re missing out on potential support.
January 2018, saw $110million dollars added to Australia’s national budget for mental health to help tackle youth anxiety and depression. While this great boost of funding has been welcomed by all in support centres and schools, there is a gap in the ‘youth’ demographic that the government and media headlines have failed to acknowledge…university students.
Making headlines as a government success story, $46million from the budget will be injected into school programs created by not-for-profit organisation BeyondBlue, to teach primary and secondary students about mental health. $1.8million will be put towards helplines including Kids Helpline and ReachOut, and a further “$13.5million has been allocated to Orygen National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health”, with the remaining funds divided amongst other health areas.
The budget breakdown highlights different areas to where the funding has been allocated but nowhere does it mention anything about university students gaining any of this funding. In 2015, Orygen conducted the “Under the Radar: The mental health of Australian university students” report, highlighting that the nature of university (stress and lack of sleep, deadlines, first time living away from family, and more) has the potential risk to increase mental illness’. It is understood that, of the 1.4 million students studying in Australian universities aged between 15-24 years, 1 in 4 people will suffer from mental illness or psychological distress. Also included in this article, Orygen allowed a young university student to share her experience with campus counselling and how she left feeling traumatised and not wanting to return to her next session. Unrecognised and incorrect treatment of mental illness can lead to a more severe impact on the individual and their families in the future, and this is heightened when the individual is aged between 15 and 24 years. Helen Stallman from the University of Queensland, has identified that “university students are an at-risk population for mental health problems…” and that there is sufficient evidence for the need of a multilevel intervention that addresses the broader needs of university students. Reporter and Senior Analyst of the 2015 Orygen Report, Vivenne Browne, stated “We need to ensure that student’s mental health and wellbeing isn’t compromised by their participation in higher education.”
The gap in government funding for Australian university students is damaging the health of the young adult population. The Mission Australia Youth Survey Report for 2017 identified mental health (33.7%) as the most important issue Australia faces in today’s society, followed by drugs and alcohol (32%) and discrimination (27.3%). The group of young people surveyed also found that a higher percentage of females (38.5%) identified mental health as a more significant issue, whereas only 27.8% of males identified it as a high risk issue
So, what is Mental Health and How can we help?
Mental Health is categorised under many different areas; anxiety, bullying, family break-ups, depression, discrimination, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, and more. Commonly defined, mental illness ranges in severity affecting the health of an individual — how they feel, think, behave and respond to others. Through government funded foundations like; BeyondBlue, Kids Helpline, Headspace and ConnectEd Space resources are readily available for young children and teenagers including; phone hotlines, interactive videos and questionnaires and general information about each specific illness. These interactive websites help encourage both the child with the mental illness and their friends and family, to get involved and learn how to support each other.
So what’s available for University Students and Young Adults?
Each university provides information about mental health and understanding individual illness’ through the Student Service website attached to the University. Free counselling is offered to students and emergency after-hours helplines are also available. However these services are not enough and are leaving students helpless, overwhelmed by the pressures of their higher-education studies. And while the programs by BeyondBlue and Kids Helpline are appropriately designed for school-aged children, the same programs cannot be transferred over to university students.
Voted as the nation’s most important issue, mental health and psychological distress amongst the at-risk university population needs to be prioritised. These students are Australia’s upcoming professionals of all industries, trying to achieve their goals and create a better economy for the nation. So, what will the government do to create change around the negative stigma of mental health for the future of our young adults?