NEW research has suggested that many local students begin university or college with mental health problems, but that some courses had more students with issues than others.
The findings from Ulster University and the Atlantic Technological University in Letterkenny were based on data collected from 1,829 first-year undergraduate students as part of a Student Psychological Intervention Trial.
Students completed detailed diagnostic questionnaires about a range of mental health problems including mood, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and substance-related issues.
Researchers analysed the responses from students taking different subjects in different university faculties.
They found that there were “significant differences between courses in reported rates for depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, possible ADHD and suicidal ideation”.
“Children can feel pressure to do well at school from a young age and this can grow as time goes on,” Enniskillen mental health councillor Raymond Farrell said.
“For others, their mental health issues may only become apparent when they start going to university. It’s called a ‘stress vulnerability’, where students find themselves in a new environment, which brings out stress that was already dormant in them.
“They would have been using coping strategies at school to mask what they are going through, but it all comes to the surface when they go to university because of the vulnerability that being in a new place brings.
“This can then lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices like excessive drinking and the use of illicit drugs.”
Specific degree courses may also attract those who are more susceptible to mental health problems.
“For example, it has been found that students who study humanities, social work and counselling were more likely to report childhood adversities,” the research paper said.
“These factors may not only attract individuals towards specific degrees but also predispose them to poorer mental well-being.”
The report also suggested some students may be attracted to subjects “such as psychology or law, due to negative early life experiences”.
It found psychology students reported elevated rates of panic disorder and social anxiety, while law students had the highest alcohol misuse rates.
Business students reported the highest rate of drug abuse, with nursing students the least likely to report psychological problems, but mental health nursing students reported more problems than those studying general nursing.
Art students reported the highest rates of depression and ADHD while engineering students reported low rates of mental health problems.
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