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Profiling third-level student mental health: findings from My World Survey 2

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2022

Ciara Mahon
School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland
Amanda Fitzgerald
School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland
Aileen O’Reilly
School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland Jigsaw, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health, Dublin 2, Ireland
Barbara Dooley*
School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland
Address for correspondence: Dr B. Dooley, PhD, Dean of Graduate Studies and Deputy Registrar, School of Psychology, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. (Email:



This study aimed to identify risk and protective factors for mental health across student cohorts to guide mental health provision.


Cross-sectional data from the My World Survey 2-Post Second Level (MWS2-PSL) were used. The sample consisted of N = 9935 students (18–65 years) from 12 third-level institutions (7 out of 7 universities and 5 out of 14 Institute of Technologies (IoTs)) across Ireland. Key outcomes of interest were depression, anxiety and suicidality. Risk factors included drug/alcohol use, risky sexual behaviours and exposure to stressors. Protective factors included coping strategies, help-seeking, resilience, self-esteem, life satisfaction, optimism and social support. These factors were profiled by degree type (undergraduate, postgraduate taught, postgraduate research), access route, and institution type (IoT, university). Chi-square tests of Independence and one-way ANOVAs compared groups on key risk and protective factors.


A total 71% of respondents were female, 85% were aged 23 or under and there was a 2.2% response rate in IoTs versus 10.6% in university students. Undergraduates demonstrated higher levels of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideation than postgraduates. Undergraduates showed higher risk and lower protective factors than postgraduates. Students attending Institutes of Technology reported higher levels of depression and anxiety, lower protective and higher risk factors than university students.


In this sample of students, undergraduates, especially those attending Institutes of Technology, were at increased risk of mental health difficulties. Findings suggest the need to tailor interventions to meet cohort needs, and consider the differing vulnerabilities and strengths across student cohorts. Due to limitations of this study, such as selection bias, further research is warranted.

Original Research
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland

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