Home > Mental health issues and alcohol abuse among college students.

Mongan, Deirdre (2010) Mental health issues and alcohol abuse among college students. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 32, Winter 2009 , p. 23.

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A recent study determined the prevalence and correlates of depression, alcohol abuse and suicidal ideation among students in two universities – Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.1 While university students around the world are vulnerable to depression, alcohol abuse and suicidality, there are three reasons for hypothesising that Irish students are at unusually high risk. First, the prevalence of depressive disorder in urban Ireland is high; second, Ireland has the third highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the EU and the highest rate of binge drinking; and third, the suicide rate among young Irish adults has increased and a large proportion of this age group is in full-time education. 

Questionnaires were emailed to 539 pre-final year medical and business students, of whom 338 (63%) responded. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) was used to measure depression and suicidality, and the CAGE screening questionnaire2 to assess alcohol abuse in the past month. Depression in the previous month was reported by 14% of students and was associated with lower social support and a greater number of stressful life events. Four per cent reported suicidal thoughts without intent, and 2% reported serious suicidal ideation. All suicidal ideation correlated positively with stressful life events and negatively with social support. A quarter of students scored 2 or more on the CAGE test, indicating an alcohol use disorder, with business students more likely than medical students to score at this level. Serious suicidal ideation correlated positively with CAGE total. 
The variable most strongly correlated with depression, alcohol abuse and suicidal ideation was social support; social support appeared to be protective; for instance, as social support increased, depression decreased. However, the cross-sectional design of this study leaves the question of causality unanswered; it is possible that depressed participants underestimated their true level of social support. The authors conclude that students would benefit from an expansion of mental health and alcohol education, and of psychosocial services in universities. Further research could use more robust methods of diagnosis and more detailed evaluation of the demographic and psychosocial factors that predict serious mental illness.    
1. Curran T, Gawley E, Casey P, Gill M and Crumlish N (2009) Depression, suicidality and alcohol abuse among medical and business students. Irish Medical Journal, 102(8): 249–251.
2. CAGE is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the four key words/phrases in the screening questionnaire – Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener.
Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 32, Winter 2009
Date:18 January 2010
Page Range:p. 23
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 32, Winter 2009
Accession Number:HRB (Available)
Subjects:G Health and disease > State of health > Mental health
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Problem substance use
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
G Health and disease > Substance use disorder > Alcohol use
T Demographic characteristics > Undergraduate or graduate student
G Health and disease > Substance related disorder > Substance related mental disorder

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