The University of Newcastle, Australia

Improving student well-being

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Psychology researchers at the University of Newcastle (UON) have undertaken a major study to understand the impact of social class on student mental health at university.

Flower stem

The link between low socio-economic status (SES) and poor mental health is already well-established, though researchers have only recently begun to consider this relation within the specific context of university settings.

This work has shown that university students report disproportionately high levels of mental distress relative to the general population. For example, a study conducted at two large Australian universities found 19% of students had "very high" levels of mental distress in comparison to 3% of the general population.

Students from low SES backgrounds in particular appear to be susceptible to mental health problems at university. As a result there is a pressing need to understand the processes that are responsible for mental distress among university students.

Dr Mark Rubin and Dr Ross Wilkinson from the School of Psychology are conducting a major longitudinal research survey to try to get a better understanding of the relationship between social class and mental health at UON.

Their research builds on previous work at UON showing that students with low incomes (as indicated by their possession of a government healthcare card) were more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

"We've had an excellent recruitment rate for our first round of data collection, with 749 undergraduate students completing our online survey during Semester 1," said Dr Rubin.

"We are now in the process of recontacting these students to ask them to complete our survey for a second time. We want to find out how they feel during Semester 2 and try to understand what factors cause changes in their mental health over time," he said.

It is expected that the research results will inform policy-makers and administrators about potential methods of improving the mental health and well-being of university students from diverse backgrounds.

The research project is funded by a grant from the Department of Education's Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme National Priorities Pool and is being undertaken as part of UON's Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education.

If you are in need of support services, please contact UON's free Counselling Service on 4921 5804, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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