Aims: Prospective studies on the mental health of university students highlighted a major concern. Specifically, young adults in academia are affected by markedly worse mental health status than their peers or adults in other vocations. This situation predisposes to exacerbated disability-adjusted life-years. Methods: We enroled 1,388 students at the baseline, 557 of whom completed follow-up after 6 months, incorporating their demographic information and self-report questionnaires on depressive, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. We applied multiple regression modelling to determine associations - at baseline - between demographic factors and self-reported mental health measures and supervised machine learning algorithms to predict the risk of poorer mental health at follow-up, by leveraging the demographic and clinical information collected at baseline. Results: Approximately one out of five students reported severe depressive symptoms and/or suicidal ideation. An association of economic worry with depression was evidenced both at baseline (when high-frequency worry odds ratio = 3.11 [1.88-5.15]) and during follow-up. The random forest algorithm exhibited high accuracy in predicting the students who maintained well-being (balanced accuracy = 0.85) or absence of suicidal ideation but low accuracy for those whose symptoms worsened (balanced accuracy = 0.49). The most important features used for prediction were the cognitive and somatic symptoms of depression. However, while the negative predictive value of worsened symptoms after 6 months of enrolment was 0.89, the positive predictive value is basically null. Conclusions: Students' severe mental health problems reached worrying levels, and demographic factors were poor predictors of mental health outcomes. Further research including people with lived experience will be crucial to better assess students' mental health needs and improve the predictive outcome for those most at risk of worsening symptoms.

Frequency and machine learning predictors of severe depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among university students

Meda, Nicola;Pardini, Susanna;Rigobello, Paolo;Visioli, Francesco
;
Novara, Caterina
2023

Abstract

Aims: Prospective studies on the mental health of university students highlighted a major concern. Specifically, young adults in academia are affected by markedly worse mental health status than their peers or adults in other vocations. This situation predisposes to exacerbated disability-adjusted life-years. Methods: We enroled 1,388 students at the baseline, 557 of whom completed follow-up after 6 months, incorporating their demographic information and self-report questionnaires on depressive, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. We applied multiple regression modelling to determine associations - at baseline - between demographic factors and self-reported mental health measures and supervised machine learning algorithms to predict the risk of poorer mental health at follow-up, by leveraging the demographic and clinical information collected at baseline. Results: Approximately one out of five students reported severe depressive symptoms and/or suicidal ideation. An association of economic worry with depression was evidenced both at baseline (when high-frequency worry odds ratio = 3.11 [1.88-5.15]) and during follow-up. The random forest algorithm exhibited high accuracy in predicting the students who maintained well-being (balanced accuracy = 0.85) or absence of suicidal ideation but low accuracy for those whose symptoms worsened (balanced accuracy = 0.49). The most important features used for prediction were the cognitive and somatic symptoms of depression. However, while the negative predictive value of worsened symptoms after 6 months of enrolment was 0.89, the positive predictive value is basically null. Conclusions: Students' severe mental health problems reached worrying levels, and demographic factors were poor predictors of mental health outcomes. Further research including people with lived experience will be crucial to better assess students' mental health needs and improve the predictive outcome for those most at risk of worsening symptoms.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11577/3487020
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