Prevalence of psychological distress in university students--implications for service delivery

Aust Fam Physician. 2008 Aug;37(8):673-7.


Background: Mental health problems are one of the leading causes of disability in Australia. General practitioners are often the first and only point of service for people suffering mental health problems, while many do not access services at all. University students can face numerous stressors in addition to academic demands that can contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health problems.

Objective: The aim of this study was to identify the prevalence of psychological symptoms in students who were patients at a university health service to enable appropriate planning of services to meet the needs of students.

Methods: Participants were 384 students attending a university health service in urban Queensland over a period of 4 weeks during semester. At their first visit, patients completed the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, a measure of psychological distress.

Results: Results showed there were significantly more patients experiencing high levels of distress compared with the general population and, consistent with the general population, almost two-thirds had not sought assistance for this distress. Increased distress was associated with increased disability among students.

Discussion: Within a university setting, co-location of specialist mental health services can promote a team approach to mental health care, with GPs, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists working together to increase the availability of care to students in need. The recent introduction of Medicare items for psychological treatment also facilitates greater access to clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • Prevalence
  • Psychological Tests
  • Queensland
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Student Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Students / psychology*