Almost half of college students felt suicidal

Almost half of college students have thought life was not worth living but most who are having serious problems do not seek help, research on young people’s mental health shows.

Students who have problems with drinking and those who are bisexual or unsure about their sexual orientation were found to be more likely than others to have severe distress or suffer from depression and anxiety.

Of 8,000 third-level students aged 17 to 25:

* 43% have at some point thought their life was not worth living;

* 21% reported deliberately hurting themselves, without wanting to take their own life;

* 7% have tried to take their own life.

But the study by the School of Psychology at University College Dublin for Headstrong — the young people’s mental health organisation — found major knock-on effects of bullying that happened before students even started college.

Those who have been bullied were twice as likely as others to self-harm or attempt suicide, but lead researcher Dr Barbara Dooley said this relates to bullying at any stage of their lives.

“For only 9% of those who were bullied, it had been in the last year. It’s more likely to have happened when they were in second-level.

“It shows how bullying at any point can have long-term effects on mental health of young people,” said Dr Dooley who is also Headstrong’s research director.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will publish an action plan in the next few weeks on how to tackle bullying in schools.

The My World study for Headstrong found students who have suffered financial stress were also twice as likely as others to self-harm or attempt suicide.

However, co-author Dr Amanda Fitzgerald said 63% of females were highly or often stressed by their financial situation compared to just half of young men.

Women were also significantly more likely to feel pressure to work outside college. “You could argue for girls, there’s much bigger pressure to look a certain way or have certain clothes, that may cause financial pressure,” said Dr Dooley.

College itself is the biggest cause of stress, followed by money and work, but only 62% said they would talk to someone if they had a problem and young men are less likely to do so. Rates of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and suicide attempts were highest among young people who did not seek help or talk about their problems.

“The results show clearly that when young people talk about their problems, they have lower rates of mental health distress and are more positive in their outlook,” Dr Fitzgerald said.

“If young people have one good adult they can talk to — it could be a parent, a teacher, or a coach — they have much lower risk factors around mental health and higher levels of optimism, life satisfaction and self-esteem,” she said.

With almost two-thirds of all 15 to 24-year-olds being students and 75% of mental health disorders happening between those ages, Dr Fitzgerald said it is vital to have adequate support services in colleges and similar settings.


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