In a recent study published in Scientific Data, researchers evaluated the prevalence rates of stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, mania, suicidal ideation, loneliness, and psychotic experiences among university-going students in the United Kingdom (UK).
Despite existing mental health facilities, university students are especially prone to mental health issues. Individuals pursuing university-level studies are especially vulnerable to psychiatric discomfort and accentuation, as well as the early onset of psychiatric disorders.
The shift to higher studies involves significant changes in academic and psychological performance. Reduced parental assistance and monitoring, in particular, may increase pressure on university students to engage in social duties, both of which may occur along with higher academic demands.
Several investigations show that institutional services are time-consuming and frequently unproductive, with non-specific or generic talking therapies frequently missing in a symptom-oriented or transdiagnostic cognitive behavioral therapy approach.
Evidence on the types of mental issues faced by university students in the UK is limited, and many existing studies focus on particular symptoms and student populations.
About the study
In the present cross-sectional study, researchers comprehensively evaluated the prevalence rates of psychological symptoms among university students in the UK using validated scales and robust psychometric measures.
The prevalence rates of depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, mania, loneliness, psychotic experiences, and suicidal ideation were estimated among 1,408 university students in the present web-based questionnaire analysis.
Adult individuals from five UK universities were recruited online between September 17, 2018, and July 30, 2019, through faculty emails, course research credit schemes, and social media platforms.
The universities included were Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Sheffield, Northumbria University, the University of Durham, and the University of Glasgow. The researchers used validated measures such as the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), the seven-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7), the Sleep Condition Indicator (SCI), the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ), the Prodromal Questionnaire 16 (PQ-16), the third version of the University of California (UCLA3) Loneliness Scale, and the Suicidal Behaviours Questionnaire-Revised (SBQ-R).
In addition, demographic data concerning age, gender, ethnicity, and course format (postgraduate or undergraduate) were obtained. Descriptive statistics (means as well as standard deviations) and two-tailed Pearson’s correlation coefficients were used to evaluate the prevalence rates of psychological symptoms among university students.
The mean age of the participants was 21 years; 83% (n=1,169) were women, 86% (n=1,213) were undergraduates; and the response rate was 77%. The majority of participants were white of UK origin (79%, n=1,115)
Among the participants, 7.4% were postgraduate-taught, 1.6% were postgraduate research students, 2.8% were doctoral students, and 2.0% were postgraduate-other students. Among the participants, 36%, 15%, 29%, 9.2%, and 2.1% attended Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Sheffield, the Northumbria University, the University of Durham, and the University of Glasgow, respectively.
The mean values for prevalence rates of anxiety, depression, mania, insomnia, perceived stress, suicidal ideation, psychotic events, and loneliness were 9.3, 10.2, 5.5, 17.7, 20.9, 6.2, 4.2, and 45.9, respectively. Anxiety levels were minimal, mild, moderate, and severe for 27.7% (n=390), 28.5% (n=401), 21.3% (n=300), and 22.5% (n=317).
Among the participants, 25.2% (n=355), 27.7% (n=390), 20.3% (n=286), 15.8% (n=223), and 10.9% (n-154) had minimal, mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe depression, respectively. The MDQ scores indicated that mania risks were low and significant for 61.1% (n=860), and 38.9% (n=548) of survey respondents, respectively. Among the university students, 55.8% (n=786) showed no probability of insomnia, whereas 44.2% (n=622) reported probable insomnia.
Stress levels were low, moderate, and significantly high for 15.5% (n=218), 60.9% (n=858), and 23.6% (n=332) of participants, respectively. Suicidal ideation risks were low for most (62.7%, n=882) of the participants. Likewise, the risk of psychotic experiences was low for the majority (70.4%, n=990) of the respondents. Among the participants, 32.8% (n=462), 33.1% (n=466), and 34.1% (n=480) reported low, medium, and high levels of loneliness, respectively.
Overall, the study findings highlighted the psychological distress among university students in the United Kingdom and indicated that health governments and university authorities must take appropriate actions and enforce measures to improve the mental health of the students.
However, the cross-sectional design of the study limits the ability to draw definitive conclusions, warranting further research to investigate causal associations between university education and psychological symptoms. Future studies must include homogeneous sample populations and objective-type psychological assessments to improve the generalizability and reliability of the findings.
- Akram U, Irvine K, Gardani M, et al. (2023). Prevalence of anxiety, depression, mania, insomnia, stress, suicidal ideation, psychotic experiences, & loneliness in UK university students. Sci Data, 10, 621. doi:10.1038/s41597-023-02520-5. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41597-023-02520-