Recent Research: Elevated Risk of Depression and Anxiety in Higher Education Students in England

by Mateo Gonzalez
Higher Education Mental Health

A recent investigation has unveiled a slight uptick in the likelihood of depression and anxiety among higher education students in England compared to their non-student counterparts. However, this disparity diminishes as individuals reach the age of 25. This research, which scrutinizes mental health data gleaned from two extensive longitudinal studies, emphasizes the imperative need for further exploration into the root causes and potential remedies for this phenomenon.

According to a study conducted by researchers at UCL, young individuals pursuing higher education in England exhibit a slightly higher susceptibility to depression and anxiety when juxtaposed with those who are not enrolled in higher education.

This pioneering research, disseminated in The Lancet Public Health, marks the inaugural documented evidence illustrating an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety among higher education students relative to their peers who are not engaged in academic pursuits.

Eradication of Mental Health Disparity by Age 25

Notably, the research highlights that by the time individuals reach the age of 25, the disparity in mental health outcomes between graduates and non-graduates dissipates.

Dr. Gemma Lewis, the lead author and a member of UCL Psychiatry, elucidated, “In recent years in the UK, we have witnessed a surge in mental health issues among young people, prompting a heightened focus on how to provide support for students. Our findings here are disconcerting, as they suggest that students may face a greater risk of depression and anxiety than their peers of the same age who are not pursuing higher education.”

“The initial years of higher education are a pivotal phase in personal development. Consequently, enhancing the mental well-being of young individuals during this critical period could yield enduring benefits for their overall health and happiness, as well as their academic achievements and long-term success,” Dr. Lewis added.

Methodology: Longitudinal Studies and Assessment of Mental Health

The research hinged on data extracted from the Longitudinal Studies of Young People in England (LSYPE1 and LSYPE2). LSYPE1 encompassed 4,832 young individuals born in 1989-90, aged 18-19 during the years 2007-9. LSYPE2 comprised 6,128 participants born in 1998-99, aged 18-19 during the years 2016-18, prior to the disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. In both studies, slightly more than half of the participants pursued higher education.

Over the course of these studies, participants completed surveys aimed at assessing their general mental health, probing for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction.

Findings: Higher Education and Mental Health

The analysis revealed a minor disparity in symptoms of depression and anxiety among students (including those enrolled in universities and other higher education institutions) and non-students at the age of 18-19.

This distinction persisted even after adjustments were made for potentially confounding factors, such as socioeconomic status, parents’ educational background, and alcohol consumption.

The research suggests that if the potential mental health risks associated with higher education were mitigated, there could be a potential 6% reduction in the incidence of depression and anxiety among individuals aged 18-19.

Comprehending the Risks and the Imperative for Further Research

Dr. Tayla McCloud, the first author and a member of UCL Psychiatry, commented, “Our findings do not provide a definitive explanation for why students might face a higher risk of depression and anxiety than their non-student counterparts. However, it could be linked to academic or financial pressures. This increased risk among students has not been observed in previous studies, so if this association has only recently emerged, it may be attributed to heightened financial pressures and concerns regarding achieving high academic results in the broader economic and social context.”

“We would have anticipated that higher education students, on average hailing from more privileged backgrounds, would exhibit better mental health than their non-student peers. Therefore, these results raise significant concerns. Further research is imperative to elucidate the mental health challenges confronting students.”

“Enhancing our comprehension of modifiable risk factors for depression and anxiety is a global health imperative, and it is evident that nurturing the mental well-being of our youth is of paramount importance.”

Reference: “The association between higher education attendance and common mental health problems among young people in England: evidence from two population-based cohorts” by Tayla McCloud, Strahil Kamenov, Claire Callender, Glyn Lewis, and Gemma Lewis, The Lancet Public Health.
DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(23)00188-3

The study received funding and support from England’s Department for Education.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Higher Education Mental Health

Q: What does the recent study reveal about mental health among higher education students in the UK?

A: The recent study indicates that higher education students in the UK have a slightly higher risk of experiencing depression and anxiety compared to their non-student peers. However, this disparity tends to disappear as individuals reach the age of 25.

Q: How was this study conducted, and what data was used?

A: The study was conducted using data from the Longitudinal Studies of Young People in England (LSYPE1 and LSYPE2). These studies involved thousands of young participants and assessed their general mental health, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction, at multiple time points.

Q: What factors were considered when analyzing the mental health differences between students and non-students?

A: The analysis took into account various potential confounding factors, including socioeconomic status, parents’ education, and alcohol use, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the mental health disparities observed.

Q: Why is it important to address mental health concerns among higher education students?

A: The study underscores the significance of addressing mental health issues among higher education students, as these early years of academic pursuit are crucial for personal development. Improving the mental well-being of young individuals during this period can have long-lasting benefits for their health, academic achievements, and overall success.

Q: What are the potential reasons behind the higher risk of depression and anxiety among students in higher education?

A: While the study doesn’t provide a definitive explanation, it suggests that academic or financial pressures could contribute to this increased risk. Further research is needed to better understand the specific factors driving this phenomenon.

Q: Who funded and supported this research?

A: The research was commissioned and funded by England’s Department for Education, highlighting the government’s interest in addressing mental health concerns among higher education students.

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PolicyMaker November 28, 2023 - 10:56 am

Fundng frm Dept. for Educatn shows govt. cares abt studnt’s mental health. #Priorities

JohnDoe November 28, 2023 - 8:56 pm

wow! this is sum intrstin stuff abt students nd mental health. kudos 2 d reseachers!

SeriousReader12 November 28, 2023 - 8:57 pm

The findings r impornt, we shud supprt studnts bettr 2 avoind deprssion & anxiety.

GrammarGeek November 29, 2023 - 6:07 am

gr8 job! bt remembr 2 check speling & gramar next time, it maters in serious research!

CuriousCat November 29, 2023 - 7:38 am

yea, why do studnts feel more stress? needs mor study, impt issue!


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