Many university students suffer from anxiety, depression, survey reveals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am

Nearly half of university students surveyed in a large-scale study suffered from anxiety, while a third report symptoms of depression.

The online survey, conducted by the University of Hong Kong's department of psychiatry and the Tertiary Institutions Health Care Working Group, canvassed the views of 14,073 full-time undergraduate students in the city in late 2005 to gauge the quality of their mental health.

Of those surveyed, 32 per cent, or about 4,500 students, reported moderate to extremely severe depressive symptoms, while 48 per cent or more than 6,700 students suffered from similar levels of anxiety. More than 4,200 students, or 31 per cent of students, had to put up with moderate to extremely severe degrees of stress.

Josephine Wong Wing-san, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the university, said depression referred to long-term feelings of gloom. Anxiety meant suffering inexplicable fears often with physical symptoms, while someone who was stressed was often jumpy and touchy.

Students must pay more attention to maintaining their mental health, she said. 'While support can be sought from family or religion, students with more serious symptoms should seek help from professionals such as counsellors or psychiatrists,' Dr Wong said.

According to the survey, first-year students reported a significantly lower level of depression compared with those in other years. And in comparing results of 1,687 students who completed the current survey and a previous study in 2003, significant increases in depression, anxiety and stress levels could be observed.

The survey also reported significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress among those with general health problems, past mental health problems or a family history of mental health problems.

Stanley Sum Yui-him, a second-year student at Polytechnic University, who is a member of an ambassador training programme launched by the working group, said university students knew little about mental health.

'Some equate poor mental health with mental problems while others think people with mental problems are necessarily violent,' he said. 'Students must be equipped with knowledge of maintaining mental health to adapt to the transition to university.'

Campus blues

The percentage of students showing symptoms of depression in a 2005 survey 32%