Addressing the exponential rise in student mental health cases in APAC higher education sector

Posted by Tribal Group

The current state of student health and wellbeing in APAC higher education:

In the academic year 2018/19, nearly 82,000 students disclosed having a mental health condition. This was pre-pandemic. Fast forward to 2022 and the number of students with self-diagnosed anxiety and depression is at an all time high, and recent headlines report a number of concerning trends:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, mental health support is now the fastest growing additional need disclosed at application. As a result, funding in APAC is expected to grow to $262 million by 2023 to support an average of 500 students with additional needs per institution.

Of course, the exponential growth in mental health support requirements is not an isolated trend in the higher education sector. Mental disorders now pose a greater global economic burden than chronic somatic diseases, with an estimated economic cost of US$2.5trillion worldwide. This is expected to double by 2030. However, higher education students (16-24 year old age group) are a ‘high risk population’ for mental health difficulties and research suggests that young people undertaking university study experience higher levels of psychological distress than their aged-matched peers in the general community.

There are also a number of factors that are likely to have contributed to the rise of student disclosures in recent years, including:

  • A seismic shift in attitudes to mental health and wellbeing following major campaigns aimed at improving mental health literacy and eradicating the stigma around disclosure and seeking support, 
  • Growing discourse around mental wellbeing as an important issue at university, particularly for first year and international students who are at the highest risk of attrition, 
  • Heightened awareness of the impact of isolation and the need for community to support mental wellbeing as a direct result of the pandemic, and
  • The readily available range of dedicated health and wellbeing support services offered by universities and VET providers.

Indeed, over the last decade, universities and VET providers have consistently invested in processes and technology to support students’ transition into life at university, and thrive in the environment. An approach which ultimately enabled an almost ‘overnight’ switch to online learning in 2020. However, results from the latest global student experience survey, the International Student Barometer (ISB), highlight a number of key areas where universities can focus their efforts to improve student experience in ways that support an uplift in student mental health and wellbeing.

Australia International students survey results pertaining to support:

AU support satification levels

New Zealand International students survey results pertaining to support:

NZ support satisfaction levels


Expectation and the realities of the student experience

Almost all higher education students have had a predominantly virtual experience of university since 2020, putting each institution's online learning and support offering under intense scrutiny. Having grown up with Netflix, Uber and Amazon providing hyper-personalised experiences at the touch of a button on their mobile devices - students today are digital natives with a very specific set of priorities.

Every time a student engages with an institution, they demand outstanding experiences as standard. When students feel that their institution does not provide the experience they expect across all aspects of teaching, learning, and support, it adversely affects their satisfaction levels, making them question the value of the education provided.

This is evident when, again examining the latest ISB data, Australian students shared that ‘online experience’ was a significant factor in the drop in happiness and satisfaction levels they reported. Similar trends were supported in other APAC regions. Hence institutions everywhere are looking for virtual as well as face-to-face ways to help students develop a sense of academic, emotional and social connection with the institution, at a diverse, cultural level, before dropout rates start to soar.

Meeting service demand and supporting mental health wellbeing

CRM systems have long been considered the best way to help an institution meet demand for services and drive better relationships with stakeholders. Which means the reality for many universities is an average of 15+ CRM tools deployed across different departments and functions. Despite the efficiencies the tools may bring, the value that disparate systems can deliver in ‘experience’ terms remains limited.

Universities and VET providers really need the capability to manage all forms of student learning and support requirements from a central student record to empower staff with a single 360 degree view of each and every student. Today, this capability is needed in the cloud, to enable personalised, self-service support via multiple channels, including live chat, video, email and portals.

Ultimately, ensuring a ‘self-service mental health hub’ is available to students at any time via any device is the most efficient and effective way to support students’ mental wellbeing and assist them in developing resilience and self-management techniques. It’s why institutions are now considering CRM solutions that enable teams to provide students with:

  • A rich knowledge base of articles with answers to FAQs,
  • Access to forums offering supportive discussion and peer-to-peer support in a safe and secure environment,
  • Personalised reminders of the support services available, especially at key times of the year such as O-Week or exam periods,
  • Capability to create a new support case or edit/manage an existing one via the channel of their choosing,
  • Appointment scheduling by allowing students to self-book according to service type, and
  • Live Chat with co-browsing and video capabilities, with the option to escalate a chat session from a bot to a human agent, and vice versa.

Increasingly, universities and VET providers are choosing education specific cloud-based solutions - like Tribal’s Student Support & Wellbeing - to deliver these kinds of experiences; the kind of experiences that students expect.

The art of the possible, digital trends and smarter campus innovation

As well as providing a platform for self-service student support, Tribal’s solution is specifically designed to generate cross-departmental insights that help staff to:

  • Identify at risk students based on behaviours, 
  • Investigate incidents wherever and whenever they occur in university life, and 
  • Coordinate targeted support and response - in time to make a difference.

Furthermore, the solution makes it easy to capture the effort involved at every stage of mental health cases, helping institutions to fully understand the demand for services, analyse any gaps in the process, inform workload planning, and identify staff training needs.

This best-of-breed technology is now playing an intrinsic role in bringing about the systemic, future-proof changes that universities everywhere are seeking to make to build teaching, learning and support environments in which students thrive. For more on this subject and the five essential wellbeing pillars all institutions need to consider in their support service action plans, read our next blog in this series.

Can’t wait? Visit Tribal’s resource hub for ideas on how to use your support and wellbeing CRM to transform the way your students experience your support services - including ways to future-proof your solution by integrating with smarter campus innovations.

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