Mental distress during adolescence and participation in higher education

Balloo, Kieran ORCID: and Hosein, Anesa and Byrom, Nicola and Essau, Cecilia A. (2022) Mental distress during adolescence and participation in higher education. In: 44th Annual Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA 2022), 27 June - 30 June 2022, Melbourne, Australia.

Text (Abstract)
HERDSA Abstract.pdf

Download (110kB) | Preview


Background/context. Recent evidence indicates that adolescents experiencing mental distress might be more likely to go on to attend university than those with no symptoms of distress (Lewis et al., 2021). One explanation for this is that future university students might experience greater academic pressures than their peers, which results in heightened mental distress (Lewis et al., 2021; Luthar et al., 2020). However, the mechanisms behind such pressures are unclear.

The initiative/practice. In this study, we anticipated that mental distress (consisting of anxiety/depressive symptoms, social dysfunction, and loss of confidence) experienced by future university students might be specifically due to the high-stakes qualifications needed for university admission. Drawing on social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954), we theorised that future university students might make upward social comparisons with peers who they anticipate will perform better than them, and that this causes mental distress.

Methods of evaluative data collection and analysis. We conducted logistic regression analyses of longitudinal panel survey data from a population-representative cohort of approximately 8000 young people.

Evidence of outcomes and effectiveness. Our analyses confirmed that high-stakes qualifications appeared to be the underlying mechanism causing mental distress. Adolescents with greater mental distress were more likely to attend university in general, as well as attend a more academically selective university. Mental distress symptoms were also greater for those who planned to apply for university, but did not actually attend. By age 25, symptoms were, on the most part, no longer elevated for those who attended, or had planned to attend, university. We argue for a need to target interventions at times when adolescents undertake high-stakes qualifications at school and university.

Statistics for USQ ePrint 49377
Statistics for this ePrint Item
Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Poster)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: File reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher/author.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - USQ College (8 Jun 2020 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - USQ College (8 Jun 2020 -)
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2022 23:30
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2022 01:55
Uncontrolled Keywords: mental distress; university; academic pressure
Fields of Research (2020): 52 PSYCHOLOGY > 5203 Clinical and health psychology > 520304 Health psychology
39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390303 Higher education
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 16 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 1601 Learner and learning > 160102 Higher education
20 HEALTH > 2004 Public health (excl. specific population health) > 200409 Mental health
Funding Details:

Actions (login required)

View Item Archive Repository Staff Only