Seeking help with the Uni Virtual Clinic

Image: ANU
4 December 2017

Imagine you are a new student at ANU or another university.

You are used to doing well in school, but now your faults are looking stronger than your strengths.

You’re not finishing your assignments. Perhaps you’ve started arguing with your friends. You’re having a hard time sleeping – or maybe you’re sleeping too much. You think “I’m not special. I just need to push through this.”

Students do not need to “push through this” alone. The Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) created the Uni Virtual Clinic to widen the reach of mental health services to University students – by using technology.

University students are a particularly vulnerable population for mental health issues. Evidence suggests that students from all backgrounds can suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse or eating disorders. Furthermore, untreated mental health problems in young people at university can have lasting negative effects throughout their later years.

University counselling services are excellent. But students face barriers to seeking help: they must decide that they need help and overcome worries about privacy. Getting to a therapist may involve a long wait.

The Uni Virtual Clinic was created to help students bypass these barriers.

Research indicates that for some users, online self-help programs are just as effective as traditional face-to-face interventions. CMHR researchers learned that although many ANU students had sought help online, the programs they found did not address the unique pressures faced by students.

The researchers responded by making a system specifically for the ANU student population, involving students and University staff in all steps of the design, development of the content, and testing.

As requested by students, the program can be used anonymously.

The Uni Virtual Clinic is currently undergoing a pilot trial to test its effectiveness on a sample of ANU students.

Some students might receive all the help they need from this online program. One pilot user said, “I found the assertiveness module very helpful, as this is something I struggle with a lot.” Another said, “The resources are easy to follow if you're not sure exactly what you are seeking. The range of ideas and issues covered is broad and appropriate.”

For others, the program may ease entry to a path that leads to face-to-face therapy. One student in the trial reported, “I was using the mood tracking and quizzes in the program. It got to a point where the program said ‘You have severe symptoms.’ I thought ‘Okay, I need to do something about it.’ And then I went and got help. The virtual clinic really helped me identify what I was going through. Otherwise I wouldn’t know.”

As students learn about their own mental health, they can break down negative myths about mental distress, normalising seeking help. Students discover that attending to one’s mental health is key to helping them to flourish at university.

Email uni.virtual.clinic@anu.edu.au if you have questions about the outcomes of the pilot trial.

If you’d like to donate toward the delivery of the Uni Virtual Clinic, visit their website

Updated:  6 December 2017/Responsible Officer:  General Manager/Page Contact:  Science Web Services