Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS)

Mental health, self-harm and suicide in university students in Northern Ireland

Prof Siobhan O’Neill, Ms Margaret McLafferty, Ms Coral Lapsley and Dr Elaine Murray (Ulster)
Suicidal behaviour and mental health problems are increasingly common among college students and the rates appear to be increasing globally.  The Ulster University Student Wellbeing Study, was conducted as part of the WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project initiative. The study assessed psychopathology and associated risk and protective factors in 739 first year students and the findings revealed high prevalence rates of mental health and substance disorders, ADHD and suicidal behaviour, with more than half of new undergraduate students reporting any lifetime disorder. Co-morbidity was common with almost a fifth of students reporting 3 or more disorders. Females, students over 21, LGBT students, and those from a lower socioeconomic background were more likely to have a range of mental health and behavioural problems. Self-harm and suicidal behaviour was evident in 31% of students, and being LGBT was associated with the highest risk of suicidal behaviour. The results suggest that student life can be stressful, with financial pressures, social isolation, and social perfectionism impacting on wellbeing and increasing the risk of mental health difficulties. Overall, 10% of new entry students received treatment for emotional problems in the previous year.  However, over a fifth of students with problems said they would not seek help.   It is important therefore to carefully consider strategies to encourage help-seeking behaviour.  This may include anti-stigma campaigns and effective screening programmes.  Additionally, the support services available to students, and barriers to help seeking, should be addressed. The study therefore provides important information for universities, policy makers and practice identifying risk factors and highlighting areas for intervention. The findings suggest that policies, interventions and prevention strategies should be prioritised for young people to address mental health issues before they arise.  This presentation highlights the critical role of early intervention and encouraging help-seeking, mental health and behavioural problems may be treated before they escalate into comorbid substance problems and suicidal behaviour.

This seminar took place on 7th February 2018

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Policy Briefing
Presentation