Australia plans new guidelines to address student mental health

Government pledges money after report found problem had been ‘largely ignored’

September 5, 2018
University Mental Health Day.

Australia’s universities have vowed to help develop a “framework” for protecting student mental health, after the federal government pledged A$660,000 (£370,000) towards the project.

Health minister Greg Hunt said that the framework would contain guidelines and standards to help universities prevent mental health problems from interfering with students’ education.

While adherence to the guidelines will be voluntary, Mr Hunt urged universities to get on board. He said that the aim is to “reduce the number of students who drop out or get poor results mainly because of psychological distress or mental illness”.

The framework would boost awareness about mental health, make it easier for students to get help and strengthen universities’ connections with community services, Mr Hunt said.

The grant, announced on 5 September, is part of an allocation of almost A$10 million to improve services for young people with mental health problems.

The framework will be developed by the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, or Orygen. Representative body Universities Australia promised to support the initiative.

Acting UA chief executive Anne-Marie Lansdown said that Australian universities already had “highly regarded” mental health services. “We hope this framework will help us build on that foundation,” she said.

“Youth mental illness generally is on the rise and universities are on the frontline of supporting young people with everything from financial stress to complex illnesses.”

Orygen’s 2017 report on the mental health of Australian university students found that at least one-quarter of students aged between 15 and 24 experienced mental ill health each year.

The organisation blamed risk factors including inadequate sleep, poor diet, drug and alcohol abuse, financial stress, performance pressures, and the difficulties of living away from family and balancing work and study. It said that the problem had been starved of resources and government policy attention.

Vivienne Brown, Orygen’s principal adviser for government relations and policy, said that the new framework would “recognise and tap into the great initiatives that have already been developed by a number of Australian and international universities”. 

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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