BMC Public Health (Dec 2022)

Towards a health promoting university: descriptive findings on health, wellbeing and academic performance amongst university students in Australia

  • Lena Sanci,
  • Ian Williams,
  • Melissa Russell,
  • Patty Chondros,
  • Ann-Maree Duncan,
  • Laura Tarzia,
  • Divya Peter,
  • Madeleine S. Y. Lim,
  • Adrian Tomyn,
  • Harry Minas

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 1
pp. 1 – 24


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Abstract Background Universities are increasingly recognised as institutions where health and wellbeing can be promoted to maximise academic outcomes, career transitions, and lifelong positive health behaviours. There is concern about the mental health of university students and other factors which affect academic outcomes particularly for subgroups such as international students. There are few cohort studies of the breadth of issues that can impact on mental health and academic outcomes for both local and international students. We conducted a baseline prevalence survey of students at a large Australian university covering health, academic, and social determinants of wellbeing. The purpose was to inform the university’s new student health and wellbeing framework with a view to follow-up to determine predictors of mental ill-health and academic outcomes in the subsequent year. In this paper we present the baseline prevalence data and report on selected mental health and health care access issues for local and international students. Methods The entire university population as of April 2019 of over 56,375 students aged 18 or above were invited to complete the online survey. Questions explored eight domains: demographic characteristics, general health and wellbeing, mental health, risk taking behaviours, psychosocial stressors, learning and academic factors, social and cultural environment, and awareness of and access to health and wellbeing services. Records of academic results were also accessed and matched with survey data for a large subset of students providing consent. Results Fourteen thousand eight hundred eighty (26.4%) students commenced our survey and were representative of the entire student population on demographic characteristics. Three quarters were aged between 18 to 25 years and one third were international students. Eighty-five percent consented to access of their academic records. Similar proportions of local and international students experienced symptoms of a depression or anxiety disorder, however international students were less aware of and less likely to access available health services both inside and external to the university. We also reported on the prevalence of: general lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, amount of daily sleep); risk-taking behaviours (including alcohol, tobacco and other drug use; unprotected sexual activity); psychosocial stressors (financial, intimate partner violence, discrimination, academic stressors, acculturative stress); subjects failed; resilience; social supports; social media use; and health services accessed online. Conclusions This rigorous and comprehensive examination of the health status of local and international students in an Australian university student population establishes the prevalence of mental health issues and other psychosocial determinants of health and wellbeing, along with academic performance. This study will inform a university-wide student wellbeing framework to guide health and wellbeing promotion and is a baseline for a 12-month follow-up of the cohort in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.