Building mental resilience in students

With research showing that as many as one in four (26 percent) young people between 18-24 experience mental ill health in any single year [1], Swinburne University of Technology, in collaboration with its health partner Medibank, is conducting a first-of-its-kind randomised control trial aimed at equipping students with coping strategies to improve their mental resilience.

The online mental health intervention, designed by Uprise, will support students performing poorly at university due to mental health issues, with the aim of reducing the attrition rates of those most at risk of leaving their course before graduating.

The 70 Swinburne students who self-nominate to be in the four week program  will complete an online module a week  on a range of mental health-related topics including learning to recognise unhelpful thoughts; understanding their personal values; developing mindfulness skills; and learning to relax in stressful situations; to teach them coping strategies to assist with their studies.  Each module includes a 5-6 minute video on the theme and some suggested exercises for them to practice.  At the end of the trial, each student will be interviewed to get feedback on their participation and whether they found it helpful in improving their mental health.

Myself, as head of Swinburne’s Social Health and Wellbeing Lab (SHAW), along with Research Fellow in the SHAW Lab, Karra Harrington, are leading the randomised control trial of the mental health and performance improvement solution to assess its effectiveness.

Ms Harrington says students will also have the option to contact a psychologist or counsellor if they feel they need further support.

“At any time during the four weeks, students will be able to contact a psychologist or counsellor, referred to in the program as a ‘coach’. They can book online or call a coach for additional support and advice on any issues they’re experiencing.”

We are hoping to see that students who participate in the program show lower levels of anxiety and stress, as well as increased psychological wellbeing.

The 70 students in the trial will be assessed on their mental resilience through questionnaires before and after completing the program and also three months afterwards to see if any benefits are sustained.

We are hoping to see that students who participate in the program show lower levels of anxiety and stress, as well as increased psychological wellbeing.

By conducting this trial here at Swinburne, we will be able to analyse how effective the program is at teaching mental resilience techniques as well as whether this translates into them feeling more engaged and connected with their studies. The research rigour applied to the trial will give us a clear indication of the benefits Uprise can have on students, which will, in turn, inform the future development of the program.

Assessing the effectiveness of the program

While the evidence-based program has been used successfully in businesses to increase workplace productivity, this is the first time the technology is being trialled with university students.

CEO of Uprise, Dr Jay Spence, says research shows these digital programs are now just as effective as face-to-face therapies for common mental health issues.

“Having seen the positive results of employees using Uprise in the workplace, we’re excited about the potential this program has to identify and support university students facing mental health issues,” Dr Spence says.

Advancing health and wellbeing research

The collaboration between Swinburne and Medibank is part of a three-year partnership strategy to support the health and wellbeing of the Swinburne community.

“By ensuring that wellbeing is a key focus at Swinburne, we hope to create a healthier and more engaged university population and, ultimately, foster more social inclusion, greater workforce participation and more effective building of Australia’s social capital,” says Vice President (Students), Dr Andrew Smith.

A joint research fund for collaborative research projects, to be administered by the Medibank Better Health Foundation, is another key element of the partnership. Focusing on the innovation space, the research is set to deliver some exciting digital health solutions aimed at advancing personalised healthcare through supportive care interventions using mHealth, virtual health and health data analytics.

Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan says: “Mental health is a significant public health issue, with economic and social consequences for all Australians – one in five Australians experience a mental health condition in a given year.

“In addition to this important student health project with Swinburne, Medibank recently committed $1 million to establish the Medibank Mental Health & Wellbeing Fund.”

[1] Australia’s Health 2010, Report No:12

Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash