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College Students Struggle with Psychological Distress

College Students Struggle with Psychological Distress A new Australian study suggests that a majority of university students are struggling with psychological distress.

Researchers discovered almost one-fifth of the students have a serious mental illness. Further, the rate of psychological distress among university students surveyed (83.9 percent) is almost three times higher than in the general population (29 percent).

The study, published in the journal Australian Psychologist, found rates of serious mental illness among the sample (19.2 percent) were more than five times higher than in the general population (three percent).

Study author Dr. Helen Stallman, a clinical psychologist, said she was not only worried and surprised that so many students were distressed but that only one-third (34.3 percent) of the most seriously affected reported consulting a health professional.

Her study of almost 6,500 Australian university students found the typical profile of a distressed student to be undergraduate students in their second, third or fourth year, and aged between 18 and 34.

Stallman said the seriously affected group reported reduced capacity or total impairment for 10 days of the previous month.

The study found 83.9 percent of students surveyed reported elevated distress levels with 64.7 percent of these exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms mental illness. Only 16 percent of the sample were classified as not having any mental distress, Stallman said.

Stallman said of the 34.3 percent of the serious group who reported seeking help, most (67.3 percent) visited their general practitioner while only 9.3 percent consulted a psychiatrist, 20 percent a psychologist and 30.4 percent a counsellor.

The study revealed a number of protective factors associated with a lower the risk of mental health problems among students.

These included students living in a situation where there was higher connectedness and interrelatedness, such as in university housing or with parents or a partner.

“Both life experience and experience as a student also seem to be protective factors,” Stallman said.

“Older students and postgraduate students seem more resilient, perhaps because of increased coping strategies, or at the postgraduate level, self-selection of students who have effective coping measures.”

Stallman said the study highlighted a need for universities to be proactive in promoting the mental health and well-being of students in addition to targeting problem behaviors such as alcohol abuse.

Source: University of Queensland

College Students Struggle with Psychological Distress

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). College Students Struggle with Psychological Distress. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 24 Nov 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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