The University of Newcastle, Australia

Disadvantaged students set to benefit from research grant focussed on mental health

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

More than $480,000 has been awarded to explore new ways to improve the mental well-being of university students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dr Olivia Evans from the University of Newcastle’s School of Psychology received the grant as part of the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Indigenous scheme, which provides funding to support research projects led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.

A recent study from the University’s Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education found that while students from low socioeconomic backgrounds experience higher rates of depression, targeted programs designed to increase their social contact at university could help buffer the impact on their mental health.

Dr Evans’s grant includes a three-year fellowship, during which she will explore the potential of university-relevant Facebook groups as a method of improving online social integration and the overall mental well-being of students with low socioeconomic status.

Dr Evans said a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between socioeconomic status, social contact and mental health presented researchers with a significant opportunity.

“Loneliness and isolation are a growing issue in Australia, and we have found this is particularly true for students who don’t feel like they 'fit in’ when they come to university,” Dr Evans explained.

“It is our aim to understand how we can use technology to address this isolation in a way that suits the needs and particular circumstances of these students.

“Our research will help develop effective and scalable interventions that promote social connectedness among traditionally disadvantaged university students.”

University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky AO, emphasised the importance of the research.

“Dr Evans’s work will see us explore new ways to help students reach their full potential by making them feel more welcome and connected to their university,” Professor Zelinsky said.

“This will benefit students at our university campuses and also has the potential to provide solutions that other universities around the world can adopt.”


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