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In the past four years Victoria students have been asked to complete a wellbeing survey. For the past three years, the number of students who report poor levels of emotional wellbeing has remained consistently at 45%. The survey is conducted about week six of trimester one (a stressful time!) and the results reveal paradoxically that these students are generally well engaged in daily academic life and their mood is generally positive BUT they are sleep deprived, highly stressed, and anxious. These last three states do not make for successful study.
I am often asked: “is there a mental health crisis among university students in NZ?” I believe there is, and an excellent US article has found some reasons for the spike in mental health issues among students: 1) Academic pressures and the high cost of failure; 2) financial burden; 3) Increasing dependence on technology, rather than learning to handle social pressures face to face; 4) Lifestyle imbalance of higher stress, less exercise, poor diet, plus increased use of alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. These factors seem just as true here in NZ.
So how should we at Victoria respond to serious concerns about student wellbeing? For a start, we know that frontline health and counselling services remain in high demand and waiting times are always an issue. We also have to focus on wellbeing promotion and education to create a culture of wellbeing and care (that everyone buys into and that allows us all to prioritise our wellbeing) and to support students and staff to be more resilient and build skills in stress management and positive coping.
I encourage you to not be ashamed about being human and at times being overwhelmed and anxious. Our community should normalise not pathologise this. Let me know if you have a great idea about how we can achieve this.
— Gerard Hoffman (Manager, Student Counselling Service)