According to a study, college students are more likely than colleagues who enter the workforce directly to experience sadness and depression, suggesting that the financial burden of a higher education may be having a negative impact on mental health.
The study disproves past findings that students’ mental health is comparable to or superior to that of their classmates by uncovering evidence of somewhat greater levels of despair and depression among students.
The study’s first author, Dr. Tayla McCloud, a researcher in the department of psychiatry at University College London (UCL), suggested that the lack of evidence linking higher education to poor mental health may be due to “increased financial pressures and worries about achieving high results in the wider economic and social context.”
University students this year are dealing with record rent increases, which average 8% and much exceed the typical maintenance loan in several locations, in addition to growing costs due to inflation.
Since university students typically come from wealthier households, McCloud said she would have anticipated them to have better mental health, calling the findings “particularly concerning” and calling for greater investigation to identify the hazards posed to students.
Poorer mental health at university may have consequences later in life, according to the lead author, Dr. Gemma Lewis, associate professor at the psychiatry department of University College London.
“The first two years of higher education are a crucial time for development,” the expert said. “If we could improve young people’s mental health during this time, it could have long-term benefits for their health and wellbeing, as well as for their educational success and longer-term success.”
According to a study commissioned by the Department of Education and published in the Lancet Public Health, the disparity in mental health between graduates and non-graduates had vanished by the age of 25.
The analysis indicated that the incidence of sadness and depression among people between the ages of 18 and 19 might be decreased by 6% if the possible mental health concerns associated with higher education were eliminated.
The researchers examined information from the Longitudinal Studies of Young People in England, which included 6,128 participants born in 1998–1999 and 4,832 participants born in 1989–1990 who were 18–19 years old in 2007–2009. Just over half of participants in both groups went to higher education.
At various intervals over the years, participants filled out surveys about their mental health to look into signs of social dysfunction, depression, and despair.
Even after accounting for variables including socioeconomic position, parental education, and alcohol usage, the researchers still discovered a slight difference in the symptoms of melancholy and depression between students and non-students at the ages of 18 to 19.
They discovered that reported mental health problems among university students had almost quadrupled between 2016–17 and 2022–23, rising from 6% to 16%, and were particularly common among female and non-binary students. These findings were corroborated by study from King’s College London.
The cost of living crisis and a sizable portion of this growth occurred within the past year.
According to the study, between 2022 and 2023, the percentage of students considering dropping out of school who reported having financial difficulties increased from 3.5% to 8%.
Additionally, the study discovered a slight, progressive rise in the rate of mental health issues as students took on more paid job during term time.