Before COVID, college and vocational students were at high risk for developing mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety. It is because they already have experience much higher levels of psychological distress than the general population.
But since COVID, this group is even more at risk. Our study found that the percentage of university and professional students reporting extremely high levels of distress during the pandemic (23%) was higher than before the pandemic (19%).
We also compared the percentage of Australian adults in the general population reporting extremely high levels of distress before (3%) and during (13%) COVID. In this population, too, levels of distress increased significantly.
Thus, overall, the percentage of higher education students reporting extremely high levels of distress (23%) has remained much higher than for adults in the general population (13%).
Women and international students among the most affected
Pandemics increase the amount of stressors people are submissive for a number of reasons. In university studentsThese include the health effects associated with illness, worrying about getting sick, inability to work, having to study online, and being separated from friends and family.
In our yet to be published study, we measured distress in 1,072 students enrolled in academic and vocational education and training programs across Australia. We did this using an online survey consisting of demographic questions and the Kessler 10-item Psychological Distress Scale (K10) – an aggregate measure of distress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. .
The survey asks 10 questions, including “In the past four weeks, how often have you felt hopeless?
For each question, respondents should indicate whether it is “all the time”, “most of the time”, “sometimes”, “a little time” or “never”.
In the first part of the study, we compared the current levels of student distress to pre-pandemic student distress, also measured using the K10, and found that the current levels were higher.
Groups with the highest levels of distress were younger students, women, international students, students living in Queensland and those previously diagnosed with a mental disorder, as well as those receiving mental health care .
Here’s what we know that can help
We recently conducted a review of studies (forthcoming) designed to promote mental health and stress resilience in college students. We have found:
focusing attention on the present moment was the most reliable exercise for reducing anxiety symptoms
engaging in enjoyable and personally meaningful activities was the most effective exercise in reducing symptoms of depression
positive relationships with others decreased symptoms of anxiety and paranoia and improved positive emotions
humor relieves anxiety symptoms
keeping a journal relieved symptoms of anxiety; doing this can also improve positive emotions
acceptance under difficult circumstances also relieved symptoms of anxiety, but not as effectively as focusing attention on the present moment, humor, journaling, or positive relationships
gratitude, optimism, self-compassion, awareness of emotions, and taking probiotics all helped improve mental health, but not as effectively as the other exercises described above
exercise relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety and can also improve positive emotions if the participant does not push too far beyond their ability level.
Preventive measures are important
Most Australian universities already offer mental health support programs for students. But these tend to focus on treating distress rather than preventing it. Where stress management training is available, it is usually done in isolated programs.
This contrasts with national medical health strategies which rely heavily on preventive health initiatives. These are usually educational campaigns that teach people how to take care of their health instead of waiting for them to show up to the hospital emergency room. Campaigns begin in the early years of school and continue throughout life.
australia national mental health plan also includes preventative strategies, but this does not involve educating people on how to take care of their own mental health in the same way as training in preventive medical health.
Studies show every dollar spent by universities over preventative mental health programs saves over $ 6 in health care costs and wastage resulting from non-completion of classes.
In vocational education and training, this amount increases to over $ 11 saved for every $ 1 spent. This is due to less on-campus mental health resources and training at these institutions compared to universities.
The Productivity Commission recommended mental health prevention programs be made compulsory in universities and other higher education institutions. This is even more necessary now due to the negative impact of the pandemic.
If you are experiencing extreme levels of distress that you cannot manage, it is advisable to speak to your GP about creating a mental health plan or to contact your educational institution’s counseling service.
If this article has raised any issues for you, or if you are concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
David Tuck receives funding from a research training grant from the Australian government.
Joshua Wiley receives funding from the National Board of Health and Medical Research.
Emily Berger and Lefteris Patlamazoglou do not work, consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have not disclosed any relevant affiliation beyond their academic appointment. .
This article originally appeared on The conversation.