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Make it Measurable: Assessing Psychological Distress, Wellbeing and Resilience at Scale in Higher Education


There is an ever-increasing focus on the importance of addressing the mental health of students across the higher education sector. Measuring psychological distress or symptoms of common mental disorders as a proxy for mental health does however provide a limited picture of someone’s mental health status. There is a need to comprehensively measure mental health via outcomes of psychological distress combined with “positive” and “adaptive” states of mental health such as mental wellbeing and resilience. This paper describes a study of 905 students in which an online mental health and wellbeing platform was used to measure the mental health of students, all the while providing real-time individual reports to each individual student. The data provides evidence of high levels of psychological distress (i.e. anxiety) and low levels of mental wellbeing and resilience in students, relative to population norms, with merely 18.6% of students demonstrating optimal scores on all outcomes. Contrary to predictions we found no evidence of poorer wellbeing amongst international students when compared to domestic students. The results indicate that complimenting measurement of distress with measurement of positive and adaptive states can more comprehensively capture the precarious mental status of our tertiary students. Providing this measurement in a scalable and targeted way provides universities and its students the opportunity to provide and use mental health interventions based on the needs of particular cohorts of students, moving beyond resource-intense but intermittent or untargeted approaches to intervention.

Pages:1 to 13
Section: Articles
1 citation(s) in Scopus
0 citation(s) in Web of Science


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Author Biographies

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI); Flinders University
Australia Australia

Joep van Agteren is the Research and Development Lead for the Mental Health and Wellbeing program at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and a research affiliate at Flinders University. His work focuses on innovating measurement, interventions and models of care in mental health and wellbeing, eHealth and addictions.

Flinders University
Australia Australia

Lydia Woodyatt is Associate Professor in Psychology in the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University. She is an award winning lecturer and researches at the intersection of social, clinical, and organisational psychology, using psychological science to increase engagement, motivation, justice and wellbeing.

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Flinders University
Australia Australia

Matthew Iasiello is a researcher for the Mental Health and Welbeing program at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and a PhD student at Flinders University. His research, among others, focuses on the overlap between mental illness and mental wellbeing and the implications this has for the mental health system.

Flinders University
Australia Australia

Julie Rayner is the executive officer College Services, Education Psychology and Social work at Flinders University and works on student mental health and wellbeing initiatives across the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

Flinders University
Australia Australia

Michael Kyrios is the Vice-President and Executive Dean of the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University. His research encompasses the biopsychosocial with particular interest in obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders, behavioural addictions, mental health and wellbeing, chronic medical illness, and the self in psychological disorders.