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Research probes link between students’ mental health and subject studied

Posted on the 5th January 2023

Students mental health

New study suggests the mental health of students could be impacted by the subject they are studying.

Students studying life sciences have the lowest rate of mental health and substance abuse issues, according to a new report.

Conducted by the Ulster University and Atlantic Technological University in Letterkenny, the study collated data from 1,829 first-year undergraduate students as part of the Student Psychological Intervention Trial (Spit).

The 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.

The research found that art students reported the highest rates of depression and ADHD, and determined that a student's risk of mental ill-health and drug or alcohol abuse could be linked to the subject they study.

The report states that many students begin university or college with pre-existing mental health problems and that some may be attracted to subjects "such as psychology or law, due to negative early life experiences.”

Detailing the findings, the report found that 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.

Engineering students reported low rates of mental health problems. However, researchers believe that, as it is a male-dominated subject, there could be a reluctance amongst these students to disclose mental health issues.

Previous research has suggested that male students are less likely than women to seek wellbeing or counselling help at university or college.

The study authors have now identified a need for the help and preventative measures offered by universities and colleges to be ‘tailored’ for students depending on the courses they are studying.

Mentoring schemes and other wellbeing initiatives have also been suggested as playing a role in helping new students adjust to university life.

Related: Pandemic has physically altered teenagers’ brains

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