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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2009 Aug;44(8):643-50. doi: 10.1007/s00127-008-0486-y. Epub 2008 Dec 18.

Psychological distress in first year university students: socioeconomic and academic stressors, mastery and social support in young men and women.

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Observatoire régional de la santé PACA (Southeastern Regional Health Observatory), 13006 Marseille, France.



Little is known about the role of stressors associated with university life on psychological distress (PD). The aims of this article are to: (1) assess the prevalence of PD among students during their first year of university; (2) study its associations with stressors (socioeconomic and university-related) and protective factors (mastery, social support); and (3) to compare these factors according to gender.


Cross-sectional study of a random sample of students aged 18-24 years, in their first year of university in 2005-2006, enrolled in the 6 universities of southeastern France. Standardised questionnaire, by self-administration or telephone interview. Overall, 1,743 students agreed to participate (71.0%).


PD prevalence was estimated at 15.7% (95% CI: 12.9-18.5) among the young men and 33.0% (95% CI: 30.2-35.9) among the young women. Multiple logistic regressions adjusted for social and demographic variables, mode of questionnaire administration, psychiatric history, and recent adverse life events, showed that among men PD was associated with lack of adjustment to the university academic environment (OR = 1.08; 95% CI: 1.00-1.17, P = 0.04), and mastery (OR = 0.73; 95% CI: 0.68-0.79). Among women, the prevalence of PD was associated with medical studies (OR = 2.46; 95% CI: 1.50-4.05), lack of adjustment to the university academic environment (OR = 1.07; 95% CI: 1.03-1.12), mastery (OR = 0.78; 95% CI: 0.75-0.82), and social support (OR = 0.68; 95% CI: 0.54-0.85), with a strong negative statistical interaction between mastery and lack of adjustment.


This study shows an intermediate prevalence of PD among French first-year university students compared with those observed in university students in other countries. It suggests that PD is related to university-related stressors but failed to find a relation to socioeconomic factors. Risk and protective factors for PD in first-year university students differed somewhat according to gender. However, mastery appeared to have a protective role in both genders. Further research is necessary to confirm these results in other universities and years.

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