UNSW Psychiatry and Mental Health forms new partnership to tackle students’ mental health

The collaboration includes a new clinical academic position to focus on better understanding and responding to mental health challenges in tertiary students.

Louise Templeton

UNSW’s School of Psychiatry and Mental Health has joined with Black Dog Institute and the UNSW Health Service to design a new program to address growing mental health needs in tertiary students.

The partnership was formed amid growing concerns about increasing rates of mental health problems among university students and the lack of evidence to support strategies to address them.

Director of Health Services at UNSW, Dr Bill Kefalas, says mental health needs are consistently one of the main reasons that students seek help from the service.

“Demand for mental health consultations at UNSW Health Services has consistently increased over recent years. In 2019, around 40% of patients accessed Mental Health Services, and while fewer students came for in-person appointments in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, demand for mental health plans remained at 2019 levels,” Dr Kefalas says.

He says that while there’s been increasing interest and concerns raised about tertiary student mental health and wellbeing, there has been limited clinical academic input into the field.

“We need to better understand the mental health needs of our student population and how best to respond to those needs, right across the spectrum from wellbeing and prevention, to supporting students with major mental health challenges.”

As a critical first step to close the gap in clinical academic input in this field, UNSW and Black Dog Institute have created a new role – the first in Australia – a senior lecturer in student mental health. Consultant psychiatrist and clinical academic Dr Rohan Francis-Taylor commenced in the new role in January 2022.

Professor Kimberlie Dean, Head of Psychiatry and Mental Health, says the role will provide clinical input and support to the UNSW Health Service, and develop a program of research with the aim of understanding and improving student mental health and wellbeing at UNSW.

“Mental health problems are the leading cause of ill health for young people and tertiary students are a key component of this group. We have a responsibility to ensure their mental health is supported and their learning at university is not adversely impacted by unmet mental health needs,” she says.

“We also increasingly have tertiary students across the full age spectrum, as lifelong learning becomes the norm. We also need to examine the way in which mental health needs of students differ by age and stage of life, and what works for different groups of students.”

In addition to leading a research program focused on student mental health, the senior lecturer role will contribute to teaching and will also work 1.5 days each week at the UNSW Health Service, seeing patients and working to support and upskill the GPs, nursing staff and the Psychology and Wellness team.

More information on mental health and wellbeing at UNSW can be found on the current students website.