Students thrive with University of Sydney mental health festival and census

30 March 2012

The Thrive Festival is aimed at helping students achieve their full potential.
The Thrive Festival is aimed at helping students achieve their full potential.

University is often remembered as a time of parties, relaxation and fun but students Australia-wide also experience a surge in mental health issues in their university years.

To help raise awareness of the challenges this presents, the University of Sydney is launching its inaugural Thrive Festival, which will feature activities aimed at building mental resilience and encouraging the student body to participate in the University's first student mental health census.

Thrive Festival will run from 3 to 5 April and includes free concerts, meditation, exercise classes and talks on nutrition, mindfulness and happiness, as well as some fun - a flash mob on the University's bustling Eastern Avenue.

"Recent studies of psychological wellbeing in university student populations across Australia have shown disproportionately high levels of mental health problems and psychological distress. According to studies of university students worldwide, rates of mental health distress or disorder for this group range from 15 to 52 percent, depending on definitions," says Dr Philomena Renner, head of Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the University service behind the festival and census.

The upsurge in mental health issues at universities may partly be a result of more people arriving at university with pre-existing conditions, says Dr Renner.

"For some students, the first signs of mental illness are identified in the late teens and early adult years - the same age demographic entering university. Cultural changes and increases in performance pressure can also contribute to difficulty coping, which in turn can trigger mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol problems."

Dr Renner and her team hope that the census will provide a clear insight into the mental health issues faced by students at the University of Sydney, which will help inform future mental health interventions through CAPS.

"We are calling on all students at the University of Sydney to 'care enough to share' and fill out the Thrive mental health census," says Dr Renner.

"Getting an accurate picture of mental health issues experienced by our students would not only help improve our service, it would also increase awareness and understanding among students - both those who do not experience mental health issues and those who do.

"Many students in universities all across Australia who struggle with depression and anxiety feel that they are somehow 'less than' other students they see on campus who seem happy and successful. If every student takes the time to fill out the census and share their emotional ups and downs, the overall picture painted should make everyone feel more connected and healthier," Dr Renner says.

It is also hoped that raising the profile of mental health issues among university students will increase the willingness of students to come forward, which will help to enable early identification and intervention and allow students to flourish academically and personally.

More than 2000 students seek assistance from CAPS every year. About 40 percent of these students seek help for distress arising from anxiety, stress, low mood or depression. CAPS also engages with students experiencing a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from distress at academic failure to threats of self-harm and other severe psychological problems.

Event details

What: University of Sydney Thrive Festival and student mental health census 

When: 3 to 5 April

Where: Camperdown Campus, the University of Sydney

Download the full program of events. Highlights include:

  • Flash mob - Tuesday 3 April, Eastern Avenue
  • Boot camp - 8.00am, Tuesday 3 to Thursday 5 April, Maze Crescent Lawn
  • Meditation Mob - 3.00pm, Tuesday 3 to Thursday 5 April, Maze Crescent Lawn
  • Music on the Avenue - 1.00pm, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 April, Eastern Avenue
  • Comedy Night - 7.00pm, Wednesday 4 April, Hermann's Bar

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Media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809,