Majority of Aussie students stressed, depressed

Worryingly high numbers of Australian university and TAFE students are stressed and anxious, with many having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, according to new research from headspace and the National Union of Students.

One of the largest national student surveys into the mental health of Australian students has revealed that close to 70 per cent of respondents rated their mental health as poor or fair. While two-thirds reported high or very high psychological distress over the past 12 months.

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headspace CEO Jason Trethowan described the results as alarming, but not surprising. “Like all big life transitions, after finishing year 12 young people can be more vulnerable, they are an at-risk group with no clear check-in point for mental health difficulties,” he said.  “They might have moved out of home for the first time, they might have greater responsibilities financially, and domestically. Some young people might engage in risky behaviours such as drug use. They may have less parental contact leaving them vulnerable and changes in their mental health going unnoticed.” he said. “They are a group that can fall through the cracks.”

Mr Trethowan said mental health services are available on Australian campuses, but differed from one to the next. “Young people need to know that headspace is here to help, we have 99 centres across Australia, as well as the online and over-the-phone counselling service, eheadspace.” 

It is the first time the annual NUS survey – completed by thousands of students across the country - has focused on the mental health of Australia’s tertiary students, aged 17 to 25. The survey results have been released to coincide with National Youth Week.

National Union of Students welfare officer Jill Molloy said there were a number of challenges that impacted on student’s mental health and well-being. “Workload, looming deadlines, relationship problems, financial difficulties, drug and alcohol use, it’s a long list that students themselves say have a detrimental impact,” she said. “This is why we have partnered with headspace to bring these issues to light.”

Mr Trethowan said headspace will be providing vital help seeking and information about access to services to the NUS in order for it to share with its student membership across the country.

Survey Result
The students surveyed said the following mental health issues impacted their study in the past 12 months:
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide: 35.4 per cent
  • Feeling stressed: 83.2 per cent
  • Lack of energy or motivation: 82.1 per cent
  • Feeling anxious: 79.0 per cent
  • Low mood: 75.8 per cent
  • Feelings of hopelessness/worthlessness: 59.2 per cent
  • Trouble sleeping: 55.6 per cent
  • Panic: 52.7 per cent

Amelia Walters, 18, sought help at headspace after she became paralysed by a need to justify her place at university and was overwhelmed by the demands of study. “We don’t talk enough about just how hard university is – not just in academics, but as a total readjustment, self-discovery period,” she said.

Amelia – who is now a headspace Youth Advocate – said many of her friends feel disconnected and unable to talk about what is going on for them.

“There is this idea that everyone else is managing and is succeeding, but it’s not the case, and many people still don’t talk about the pressure because there is a stigma in admitting that you’re struggling.”

Tips and advice for young people


To help reduce stress and ensure that you're as organised as you can be during study, there are easy ways to plan ahead and look after yourself.

  • Prepare a study plan and goals for each day / week. Make sure it's balanced with other important things in your life – that way it will be easier to stick to.
  • Talk to your employers early to let them know you need to limit your shifts/hours while studying.
  • Create a study space that is comfortable, quiet, well lit, organised, and has no distractions nearby such as a TV, phone, people talking, etc.
  • Don't get hungry before or while studying. Grab nutritional snacks that keep you going, such as fruit/nuts/dairy, etc. Fill up on good food (like veggies, fruit, whole grains) and drink plenty of water to give your body and brain all the power it needs to function well. 

Connecting with people and spending time with friends, family and pets) can improve your general wellbeing and help you feel supported. Plan a catch-up with a friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while, or get involved in a local group activity.

  • Remember to get some exercise every day as this helps you to keep focused and energetic.
  • Self-care is especially important when you have a big demand in your life - that way you have the energy to commit to what you need to accomplish;
  • Devoting time to doing fun things can help you relax, recharge and connect with your friends or a community group. 
  • Some people use alcohol or drugs in student life because you think it will make you feel better, however, it can increase feelings of anxiety and stress. 
  • Using alcohol and drugs also makes you more tired and less focussed, which can impact your work.  To perform your best, avoid alcohol and other drugs.

For more information about mental health visit 'What is mental health'

for further information:
Michael Bennett
headspace Media and Communications Manager
0413 025 385
If you are going through a tough time visit your local headspace centre or contact eheadspace at or 1800 650 890