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Physical and mental health perspectives of first year undergraduate rural university students

Rafat Hussain1*, Michelle Guppy1, Suzanne Robertson1 and Elizabeth Temple2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Rural Medicine, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia

2 School of Health Sciences, University of Ballarat, PO Box 663, Ballarat, VIC 3353, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:848  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-848

Published: 15 September 2013



University students are often perceived to have a privileged position in society and considered immune to ill-health and disability. There is growing evidence that a sizeable proportion experience poor physical health, and that the prevalence of psychological disorders is higher in university students than their community peers. This study examined the physical and mental health issues for first year Australian rural university students and their perception of access to available health and support services.


Cross-sectional study design using an online survey form based on the Adolescent Screening Questionnaire modeled on the internationally recognised HEADSS survey tool. The target audience was all first-year undergraduate students enrolled in an on-campus degree program. The response rate was 41% comprising 355 students (244 females, 111 males). Data was analysed using standard statistical techniques including descriptive and inferential statistics; and thematic analysis of the open-ended responses.


The mean age of the respondents was 20.2 years (SD 4.8). The majority of the students lived in on-campus residential college style accommodation, and a third combined part-time paid work with full-time study. Most students reported being in good physical health. However, on average two health conditions were reported over the past six months, with the most common being fatigue (56%), frequent headaches (26%) and allergies (24%). Mental health problems included anxiety (25%), coping difficulties (19.7%) and diagnosed depression (8%). Most respondents reported adequate access to medical doctors and support services for themselves (82%) and friends (78%). However the qualitative comments highlighted concerns about stigma, privacy and anonymity in seeking counselling.


The present study adds to the limited literature of physical and mental health issues as well as barriers to service utilization by rural university students. It provides useful baseline data for the development of customised support programs at rural campuses. Future research using a longitudinal research design and multi-site studies are recommended to facilitate a deeper understanding of health issues affecting rural university students.

Physical health; Mental health; Well-being; University students; Adolescents; Young adults