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Student mental health linked to choice of university subject

Image of student in library corridor
Redd F | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

Research from Ulster University, Atlantic Technological University and Western Health and Social Care Trust has found that students’ risk of poor mental health and alcohol or drug abuse may be linked to their choice of subject at university.

Data was collected from 1829 first-year undergraduate students that took part in the Student Psychological Intervention Trial across four universities in Northern Ireland.

Participants had completed multiple diagnostic questionnaires for several mental health disorders.

The results found that many students start university with a pre-existing mental health condition, with those students being more likely to choose subjects "such as psychology or law, due to negative early life experiences."

Psychology students had the highest rates of social anxiety and panic disorders, business students had the highest rate of drug misuse, law students had the highest rate of alcohol misuse and nursing students were the least likely to report psychological issues.

The researchers said:

“There are significant differences between courses in reported rates for depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, possible ADHD and suicidal ideation.

“For example, it has been found that students who study humanities, social work and counselling were more likely to report childhood adversities.

“These factors may not only attract individuals towards specific degrees but also predispose them to poorer mental well-being.”


Parental leave protects mental health, even into later life

A recent study has found that parental leave helps protect mental health significantly for mothers, with benefits also being observed later in life.

Researchers from Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institutet conducted the review to investigate the relationship between parents’ mental health and parental leave internationally.

The review examined 45 studies taken from five online databases, with it concluding that parental leave helped protect against symptoms of depression, poor general mental health, stress and the need for mental health services, especially for mothers.

Interestingly, the findings for fathers' relationships with parental leave were inconclusive.

Principal investigator, Sol P Juárez, said about the review:

“Becoming a parent can be stressful for both parents. We tend to just think about the enormous hormonal and physical changes experienced by the mother, but we must also think the transition to parenthood is stressful for couples.

“This is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date. We have looked for a connection between different aspects of parental leave, such as length of leave and whether leave was paid or unpaid, and their associations with mental health in both mothers and fathers. We even investigated the indirect effect of one parent taking parental leave on their partner's mental health

“An interesting finding is that the beneficial effects are not only observed shortly after childbirth, but that these protective effects of parental leave can continue into later life for mothers”

A walk in the woods could combat teenage anxiety and depression

Newly published research shows that a walk in the woods improves symptoms of anxiety and depression in teenagers.

The study was undertaken after recent findings from the University of Science and Technology (NTNU) that showed the number of adolescents in Norway with anxiety or depression has doubled, with 40% of teenage girls struggling with severe thoughts and stress.

Simone Grassini, who was one of the researchers for the NTNU study, selected studies that contained a group of teenagers that walked through woods and a control group that did not, with both groups having anxiety or depression.

After crunching the data, the results found that a walk in the woods helps with symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly.

“Studies carried out outdoors have shown that even short exposure to a forest environment leads to less activity in the brain's fear centre," said Grassini. "These walks are an effective and simple method for something that a lot of people struggle with."

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