NIMHANS study in nine States reveals significant prevalence of anxiety and suicidal thoughts among college students

The study found that one in five participants endorsed substantial depressive symptoms, while one in four participants endorsed significant anxiety symptoms

Updated - May 18, 2024 01:16 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2024 08:24 pm IST - Bengaluru

A collaborative study by researchers from NIMHANS, University of Melbourne, Australia, and several other Indian academic institutions has revealed a significant prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms as well as suicidal thoughts and attempts among college students in India.

Published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine this week, the cross-sectional observational study recruited 8,542 students, including over 4,800 female students, from 30 universities spanning 15 cities in nine States. Utilising a questionnaire that included the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) and Generalised Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) to measure depression and anxiety symptoms, the study also examined the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, attempts, non-suicidal self-injury, and other health and social factors.

What results showed

Findings indicate that 18.8% and 12.4% of students had considered suicide over their lifetime and in the past year, respectively, with 6.7% having attempted it at some point in their lives. Among those with lifetime suicidal thoughts, more than one-third (38.1%) reported having previously disclosed these thoughts to someone, with friends being the most common confidants. Furthermore, one-third (33.6%) of participants reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression, and one-quarter (23.2%) reported moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

“We covered students aged between 18 and 21 years, a transitional age from adolescence to young adulthood marked by significant physical and cognitive changes. Our study found that one in five participants endorsed substantial depressive symptoms, while one in four participants endorsed significant anxiety symptoms, suggesting a considerable burden of mental health morbidity. Additionally, nearly one in five respondents reported experiencing suicidal thoughts during their lifetime, with 6.7% having attempted to end their life. Academic pressure and stressful life events were identified as everyday stressors, and this group expressed a need for crisis support service options,” Anish V. Cherian, Additional Professor of Psychiatric Social Work at NIMHANS, who is the lead author of the study, told The Hindu on Thursday.

“The study underscores the critical need for interventions aimed at improving mental health and supporting this demographic. Mental Health problems among young adults are increasing globally and suicide and depression are the major concerns. Prevention, early detection, and intervention are found to be effective methods to deal with these disabling conditions,”he said.

“The findings of the study provide us with a bird’s eye view of suicidality and depression among college students and help us in formulating effective policies and programs to manage mental health conditions,” Dr Cherian said.

Under-researched in S. Asia

Research predominantly from high-income nations indicates widespread depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among the younger population. In contrast, the situation in South Asia, particularly among its college students, remains under-researched, although existing studies reveal a comparable incidence of psychiatric symptoms.

Pointing out that the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders in the age group of 18–29 years (when young people attend college and employment) is 7.9%, Dr Cherian said: “In these formative years, suicide emerges as a leading cause of death, often precipitated by academic failures, relationship issues, and familial strife. This accentuates the need for a nuanced understanding and approach to mental health care for the youth.”

Stigma and environmental factors

Psychiatric issues, illicit substance use, and general psychological distress of young people often go unnoticed and are underdiagnosed and undertreated, as mental health issues add to their distress, while stigma and other environmental factors prevent them from seeking help, he said.

“Prevailing literature, however, indicates a dearth of comprehensive studies addressing mental health issues among Indian youth, especially outside the medical student community. With less than 20 significant studies in this area, research encompassing a more varied youth demographic that spans different socioeconomic, educational, and geographic backgrounds is imperative. This is vital for developing targeted interventions and policies to bolster mental health and overall well-being among this demographic. Our study was aimed at addressing this gap,” he added.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.