Paper Presentations: “I don’t want anyone at the University to think less of me.” How we can help our online students living with anxiety and mental illness to achieve success.

Presenter: Jacquie Tinkler

Co-presenter(s): A/Prof Gene Hodgins, Ms Charlotte Wardell (School of Psychology, Deakin University)

Faculty / Division: Division of Learning and Teaching

School / Unit: 

Session Type: Paper

Session Number: 5

When: Wednesday 16th November at 11:15 am

Zoom link: Passcode: 390407

Abstract: It is well known that university students experience significantly higher levels of poor mental health and psychological distress than the general population (Brown et al., 2017; Larcombe et al., 2016; Rickwood et al., 2017), with students from rural and regional areas, those suffering financial stress, transitioning to university life, and those from low socio-economic backgrounds especially at risk (Stallman, 2010). Pre-COVID, findings from the National Tertiary Student Wellbeing Survey (Rickwood et al., 2017) emphasised the poor mental health of Australian university students, with almost two‐thirds of young adults reporting high or very-high levels of psychological distress. As a result of the COVID pandemic, university students are now experiencing even higher rates of psychological distress (Heim & Heim, 2021; Gogoi, et al., 2022). University students are often reluctant to seek help for their mental health due to real and perceived stigma (McManus et al., 2017), and report feeling afraid, anxious, embarrassed or ashamed of their mental health condition or symptoms. Consequently, they often do not reach out to health services, and some work hard at concealing their condition (Andrews, 2016; Kent, 2016). Students don’t always recognise they have symptoms of mental health issues, meaning symptoms can go unrecognised and untreated (Gewin, 2012).

This situation has drawn attention to the need for subject and learning design that meets the needs of these students, particularly for the growing number of online students. More than two-thirds of CSU students study online, and in this mixed-methods study we asked our online students who had lived experience of mental illness to complete a survey that asked them about their experience of studying online while dealing with their illness, and how the design of their online subjects impacted on their studies. We also asked students to participate in a follow up interview to gain a more comprehensive and richer picture of their experiences. 220 students commenced the survey and 10 students participated in a follow up semi-structured interview. Students who participated in the survey represented a range of ages, year levels of study, part-time and full-time study loads, discipline areas, and mental health issues. Alarmingly, many of these students scored moderate to high on a measure of psychological distress (K-10), and while some students used a range of avenues to seek assistance, many did not. Our findings indicate that there are a range of approaches to subject and learning design that can assist these students to achieve success in their studies. In this session we will present these findings and some recommendations that you can use in your own teaching to help these students achieve success in their studies.

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