Psychological distress amongst undergraduate students of a Nigerian University
Background: Mental health among university students represents an important public health concern and the health of university students has been the subject of increasing focus in recent years. Available evidence suggests that there are significantly more students experiencing high levels of distress compared with the general population.
Objective: To determine the prevalence of psychological distress, and its association with gender and age among undergraduate students of a Nigerian university.
Settings and design: A cross-sectional, descriptive study was carried out amongst undergraduate students of the university.
Subjects: A structured and validated self administered questionnaire; the symptom Distress Checklist (SCL90) was used to collect information from 577 randomly selected undergraduates. Every bonafide student who obliged to participate was considered eligible. The response rate was 96%. SPSS version 16 was used to analyze the data. Data analysis consisted of cross tabulation, calculating percentages, chi square and correlation tests.
Results: The age range of respondents was 16-46 years. The mean age was 20.7 (SD=5.4) years. 341 (59.1%) of the respondents were males, while 236(40.9%) were females giving a male: female ratio of 1:1.4. The prevalence of overall psychological distress was 29.6%. A higher proportion of females (31.8%) than males (28.2%) had overall psychological distress, however the difference was not statistically significant (p= 0.348). Females also had a higher prevalence of virtually all the symptoms (subtypes) of psychological distress than males, with the differences reaching statistically significant level in the Somatization (p=0.001), Interpersonal Sensitivity (p= 0.021), Hostility (p=0.037) and Psychoticism (p=0.004) subscales. About onethird (35.9%) of the respondents in the age range 16-20 years had probable psychological distress; age was found to have a significant association with PD (p<0.001), while religion was found not to have a significant association with PD (p = 0.791).
Conclusion: A relatively high prevalence of PD was found amongst university students in this study. The consequences of unrecognized and untreated psychological distress on the individual students and the nation were discussed and necessary recommendations made.