University stress the biggest threat to student wellbeing

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

Whether it’s sleepless nights, long study sessions or last-minute cramming, it’s no secret that exam time is stressful for university students. But experts now say that exam and study stress is having severe negative effects on the mental and physical health of young Australians.

A recently released 2022 national survey, conducted by mental health organisation ReachOut, talked to more than 600 young people aged between 16 and 25 in universities across Australia. Data showed that almost half (48 per cent) of students claimed that exam and study stress was their most concerning issue impacting their well-being. 

Of the young people impacted by exam-related stress:

  • 75% said they lacked motivation and were not doing things they enjoyed
  • 73% said they had trouble sleeping 
  • 72% had trouble focusing 
  • 71% experienced changes to their mood 
  • 42% took time off work or study due to study and exam stress 
  • 39% experienced challenges within their relationships with their friends, families or partner due to study stress 
  • 37% experienced poor physical health or illness 

Linda Williams, Clinical Lead at ReachOut and expert in youth mental health, told EducationDaily that, if left untreated, study stress can have dire consequences for the long-term health of Australian students.

- Advertisement -

“We know that some stress can help us get through difficult tasks, such as exams,”
says Ms Williams. “Young people in Australia are not only stressed about exams and study but that the stress is also having a significant impact on their mental health, wellbeing, their physical health, and their lives, more generally. When that stress starts impacting our mood and other areas of our lives, it can impact students’ mental health in both the short and long-term.” 

Spotting the signs of exam stress

Study stress manifests differently in everyone and the effect it has can vary. According to Ms Williams, the most common indicators include feeling moody or overwhelmed, fidgeting, having difficulties with sleeping, experiencing a lack of motivation, or headaches.

“A lot of students will recover quickly from study stress really well,” says Ms Williams, “but for some young people, it can contribute to things like anxiety and depression – particularly for students who are already experiencing difficulties with their mental health.”

With 46 per cent of Australian university students self-reporting a mental health problem in the last 12 months, students are encouraged to reach out for support to mitigate the long-term impacts of study stress. 

- Advertisement -

Getting proactive about student mental health

But according to Jackie Hallan, Director of Service at ReachOut, all hope is not lost for stressed university students. Pointing towards strategies that can mitigate the effects of stress or anxiety, Ms Hallan says students need to get more proactive when looking after their mental health.  

“Small actions like waking up at the same time each day, taking breaks during study sessions and staying connected to the people who are important in your life can make a big difference.” says Ms Hallan. “I also strongly encourage all students to seek help if study stress is becoming unmanageable for them.”

Linda Williams also told EducationDaily that self-help strategies could only go so far, and suggested struggling students should contact their university or external mental health service. “For students experiencing exam stress, many universities will already have well-being services in place. But for curious students seeking accessible online mental health advice, ReachOut is a great place to start,” she says.

“Our next-step program guides students through a couple of questions, has them voice their concerns and then matches them to relevant mental health services that suit their needs,” Ms Williams says. “Students seeking additional help should reach out to their local GP for further advice.”

How parents can support students 

While young Australians often use university as a chance to distance themselves from familial ties, parents can significantly impact their child’s ability to cope with study stress. 

- Advertisement -

Ms Williams encourages parents to keep the lines of communication open with students, especially during high-stress study periods. “Be it a call, Facetime or even checking in by text – it can be a massive help for struggling students.”

“Parents should be asking their children what kind of support they need at the moment and what they can do that would really help. Sometimes they need practical help and sometimes, all it takes is for them to know their parents are there for them.”

For further mental health advice for parents, teachers and students, ReachOut Australia is a free digital resource offering several strategies and programs for dealing with exam and study stress.

Share This Article
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.