5th October 2023,Mumbai: A recent study led by academics from UCL indicates that young people in higher education in England have a slightly higher risk of depression and anxiety than their counterparts who do not attend higher education, according to a new study headed by UCL academics. The research paper, published in The Lancet Public Health, is the first to find evidence of higher levels of depression and anxiety among higher education students compared with their peers. The authors found that by age 25, the difference had disappeared between graduates and non-graduates. Lead author Dr Gemma Lewis (UCL Psychiatry) said: “In recent years in the UK we have seen an increase in mental health problems among young people, so there has been an increased focus on how to support students. Here we have found concerning evidence that students may have a higher risk of depression and anxiety than their peers of the same age who are not in higher education.”
Understanding the Study
The researchers used data from the Longitudinal Studies of Young People in England (LSYPE1 and LSYPE2). The first study included 4,832 young people born in 1989-90, who were aged 18-19 in the years 2007-9. The second study included 6,128 participants born in 1998-99, who were aged 18-19 in the years 2016-18 (i.e., prior to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic). In both studies, just over half attended higher education. Participants in the studies have completed surveys about their general mental health, to investigate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction, at multiple time points over the years.
Higher Education and Mental Health: A Link Uncovered
The researchers found a small difference in symptoms of depression and anxiety at age 18-19 between students (including those at university and other higher education institutions) and non-students. This association persisted after adjustment for potentially confounding factors including, among others, socioeconomic status, parents’ education, and alcohol use. The analysis suggests that if the potential mental health risks of attending higher education were eliminated, the incidence of depression and anxiety could potentially be reduced by 6% among people aged 18-19.
Potential Causes of Higher Risk
First author Dr Tayla McCloud (UCL Psychiatry) said: “Based on our findings, we cannot say why students might be more at risk of depression and anxiety than their peers, but it could be related to academic or financial pressure. This increased risk among students has not been found in studies in the past, so if the association has only recently emerged, it may be related to increased financial pressures and worries about achieving high results in the wider economic and social context.”
“We would have expected higher education students to have better mental health than their non-student peers as they tend to be from more privileged backgrounds on average, so these results are particularly concerning. More research is needed to clarify the mental health risks facing students,” Dr. McCloud added.
A Global Health Priority
“Improving our understanding of modifiable risk factors for depression and anxiety is a global health priority, and it is clear that supporting the mental health of our young people is vitally important.”
The study’s findings shed light on the mental health challenges faced by young adults pursuing higher education in England. While the reasons for this increased risk remain unclear, it highlights the importance of addressing the mental well-being of students during this critical period of development. Further research is needed to uncover the underlying causes and to develop effective strategies for supporting the mental health of higher education students, ultimately benefiting their long-term health, well-being, and academic success.
1. Why did this study focus on young people in higher education in England?
– The study focused on this demographic to understand the prevalence of depression and anxiety in young adults pursuing higher education in England, as compared to their peers who are not in higher education.
2. What were the key findings of the UCL study regarding mental health risks?
– The study found that young people in higher education have a slightly higher risk of depression and anxiety than those who are not in higher education. This risk persists even after adjusting for various factors.
3. What factors could be contributing to the higher risk of depression and anxiety among higher education students?
– While the study did not pinpoint specific causes, it suggested that academic and financial pressures may play a role. However, more research is needed to understand the underlying reasons.
4. Does the study indicate any differences in mental health outcomes between university students and those in other higher education institutions?
– The study grouped students from various higher education institutions together. It didn’t specifically compare mental health outcomes between university students and those in other types of institutions.
5. What are the implications of these findings for policymakers and educational institutions?
– The findings underscore the importance of addressing the mental health of young adults in higher education. Policymakers and institutions need to develop strategies to support students’ well-being during their critical developmental years, potentially leading to better long-term health and academic success.
-by Kashvi Gala