Seven out of 10 students surveyed by the National Union of Students rated their mental health as poor or fair.
The survey of more than 2600 Australian University and TAFE students found about a third had considered self-harm or suicide in the last 12 months.
It also found that two-thirds of students reported high or very high psychological distress in the last 12 months. Almost 80 per cent had felt anxious and more than half had experienced panic.
It is the first time the annual National Union of Students survey asked questions about mental health, after partnering up with youth mental health foundation headspace.
National Union of Students’ welfare officer, Jill Molloy, said there was massive demand placed on underfunded university mental health services, with up to seven-week waiting lists.
She said financial stress, the penalty rate cut decision, high workloads and drug and alcohol abuse were among students’ worries.
‘Our generation has a number of extra stresses,’ she said. ‘We are living in a very competitive time with less jobs.’
Ms Molloy said stigma that prevented students from getting help also needed to be addressed.
The chief executive of headspace, Jason Trethowan, said more investment in mental health was needed.
‘After finishing Year 12, young people can be more vulnerable,’ he said. ‘They are an at-risk group with no clear check-in point for mental health difficulties.’
Mr Trethowan said students struggling with mental health problems were more likely to drop out of university and be not be able to find work, which was concerning.
He said early intervention and follow-up consultation with students on how to address the growing problem was needed.