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.