The Hidden Cost of Education


Words || Rhiannon Williams

It’s reasonable to assume that most of us have dealt with, or will have to deal with, issues regarding mental health at some point in life. Unfortunately, there are many who are unwilling to admit to such difficulties, as we have often been led to believe it’s something we should shun or hide. Despite what we are taught, fluctuations in mental health are simply the reality of the human brain – it’s something we must accept. It’s unavoidable, but there are measures that can be taken, assistance that can be sought, to counteract or control these effects. A major obstacle standing in way, however, is this social stigma.

Even if you haven’t personally had issues with mental health, it’s no stretch to assume that someone you’re close with has. A new study conducted by Headspace, in collaboration with the National Union of Students (NUS), found that the levels of anxiety and depression among tertiary students are reaching increasingly dire levels. A survey of 2,600 students between the ages of 17 and 25 established that roughly one in three said they had personal experience with thoughts of self-harm and suicide in the past 12 months (35 per cent). The study also reported that 65 per cent of participants reported very high levels of psychological stress, with more than half suffering panic attacks, trouble sleeping, and feelings of worthlessness.

In 2016 Macquarie University’s counselling facilities, the Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), stated that approximately one in four students reported a history of self-harm at some point in their life. They also found that in the two weeks prior to referral, 15 per cent of students seeking support indicated that they had experienced moderate to severe thoughts of self-harm. Although these numbers differ from the NUS survey, they still act as noteworthy indicators of the state of mental health among students.  

In 2016, CAPS had been in contact with roughly 2,500 students seeking support; a slight increase in the 2,385 students seeking support in the previous year. Although this increase may not outwardly appear to be staggering, it is proportional to the number of students enrolled at Macquarie University. In 2014 however, the number of students who contacted CAPS was less than half, at 1,068. Such an acute increase in only two years can possibly be attributed to the introduction of a 24/7 online self-referral service in 2015. Such a service enables individuals seeking assistance to do so through more preferred, less anxiety-inducing means. It is not only far more flexible, but enables a sense of anonymity to those seeking help, dismissing the stigma which might be felt if the individual was only offered a face-to-face meeting.

The transition from high school to tertiary education brings with it an onslaught of accompanying hardships, mostly the newly found financial independence many folks are experiencing for the first time. Increasingly intensified workloads with looming deadlines and the maintenance of relationships and social lives are then piled on top of this fresh dependency, creating a brutally tolling concoction on both body and mind. WellbeingWISE, a newly established service offered by Campus Wellbeing, addresses the difficulty of such a transition and kindly provides information about dealing with the new physical environment, differing approaches to learning and teaching, and the new expectations that come with being a university student.

WellbeingWISE is available via iLearn, and is an easily navigated website in which students simply enrol to access the content. Enrolment is easily done. Just follow the links on the Campus Support ‘Wellbeing’ page. The content available is intended to enable students to gain skills and improve their personal development in regards to university life and all that is associated with it, namely financial responsibilities and the maintenance of both mental and physical wellbeing. Basically, they’re trying to prevent us from subsisting solely on Mi Goreng.

It’s not just the negative social stigma that prevents many from seeking assistance in person, but also the manner in which the assistance is provided. The difficulties presented by mental health are often exacerbated if the concerns of the individual in question are met with seemingly inefficient responses. As a result, one of the most desirable feature of WellbeingWISE is that it was co-created with students, ensuring an open dialogue remains between those offering the service, and those seeking it.

Mental health is a complex and difficult issue, and it’s not something that can, or should, be erased or hidden. The stigma attached to mental health, however, needs to be eradicated. The eradication of negative stigma is necessary in order to enable those seeking assistance to be able to do so without worry or hassle. In the meantime, the general consensus among mental health professionals is the importance of instigating a variety of avenues of assistance. Help should be offered via diverse formats, whether that be face to face meetings, phone calls, or online text-based communication. Such a variety of platforms enables simplicity and practicality.

If you, or anyone you know, is seeking help:

Campus Wellbeing 9850 7497 | 13 11 14 |
MensLine Australia 1300 789 978 |
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 |
Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36 |
Headspace 1800 650 890 |