The onset of most lifetime mental disorders occurs during adolescence, and the years in college, as the final stage of adolescence in a broad sense, deserve attention in this respect. The psychological well-being of undergraduate students can influence not only their academic and professional success, but also the development of society as a whole. Although previous studies suggested psychiatric disorders are common in the adult population, there was little consistent information available about undergraduate students’ mental health problems. This research aimed to describe the changes in depression, anxiety, and stress of Chinese full-time undergraduate students as they experienced university life using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales-21 (DASS-21). The main conclusions of our study were as follows: (1) on average, students’ severity scores of depression during the four academic years varied between 7.22 and 7.79, while stress scores ranged from 9.53 to 11.68. However, the anxiety scores of college students in the first three years turned out to be 7.40, 7.24 and 7.10, respectively, slightly overtaking the normal threshold of 7. These results indicated that Chinese college students, in general, were mentally healthy with regard to depression and stress, but their average anxiety levels were beyond normal in the first three years. (2) As for the proportions of students with different degrees of severity, approximately 38% to 43% of college students were above the normal level of anxiety, about 35% above the normal level of depression, and around 20% to 30% above the normal level of stress. (3) There were significant differences in the psychological health states of students of different years, especially among the sophomores, juniors, and seniors; the highest score of depression, anxiety, and stress all appeared in the first or second year on average, but some improvements were achieved in the third and last years. The findings suggested that colleges and universities need to pay special attention to psychologically unhealthy students, and with concerted efforts by the government, formulate mental health policies in the prevention, detection, and treatment of students’ psychiatric disorders, rather than just focusing on their average levels of mental health.
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