Making mental health a priority for first-year university students: Evaluating a self-management program

Year: 2017

Author: Penman, Joy, Sathasilvam, Shivvaan, Goel, Kalpana, McCracken, Tara, Webby, Brian

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Students commencing their first year at university are confronted with many challenges, for example, in adjusting to academic learning and teaching styles, in managing their time and motivation, in selecting what to study. Academic demands encountered when entering regional universities may be compounded by the socio-economic and environmental challenges confronting rural and regional communities (Hunt & Eisenberg 2010; Hussain et al. 2013). For instance, job losses in the mining industry and uncertainty regarding continuation of steel making in Whyalla surround any decision to remain in the region and pursue tertiary education. Students must cope with academic and social stresses while maintaining mental health and well-being in order to succeed at university (Goodwin et al. 2016). Mental health is a national health priority, and an important one for these communities.

This paper presents a novel approach to helping regional students transition and adapt to university by empowering first-year regional students to care for their own mental, psychosocial and emotional health by expanding their coping abilities and self-management strategies (O' Reilly et al. 2011; Smith & Shochet 2011; Conley et al. 2013). Conceptualised in 2013 by a team of regional lecturers of the former Centre for Regional Engagement, in collaboration with mental health clinicians of Country Health South Australia, a reference group was formed to design the program and determine the content of an educational resource manual and accompanying workshops. The program was implemented for nursing students at Whyalla and Mount Gambier campuses, and Social Work, Education and Engineering students at Whyalla until 2016.

The outcomes of the program were evaluated to ascertain program's effectiveness through pre- and post-training surveys as well as anecdotal remarks. The questionnaires were administered to participants to assess any change in perceptions and practices regarding mental health. The 5-point Likert items were aggregated to form a Likert score. A paired-sample t-test (n=44, mean difference d? = 0.6, p