BACKGROUND: Mental health problems are highly prevalent among university students. Stress due to student life challenges may be a risk factor for poorer health. This study investigates to what extent student life challenges and changes therein are associated with mental health and self-rated health.
METHODS: In a longitudinal study with 568 Italian university students mental health was assessed using the Mental Health Inventory-5 (MHI-5) and self-rated health with a single item from the Short Form 36 Health Survey (SF36) (score ranges: 0-100) at baseline and at six months follow-up. Student life challenges were investigated using six subscales (score ranges: 1-4) of the Higher Education Stress Inventory (HESI). A between-within linear regression model was used to investigate whether a higher exposure to life challenges was associated with poorer health (between individuals) and whether changes in student life challenges were associated with changes in health (within individuals).
RESULTS: Higher exposure to student life challenges was associated with poorer mental health (b ranging from -5.3 to -10.3) and self-rated health (b ranging from -3.1 to -9.6). An increase in student life challenges within individuals was associated with poorer mental health and self-rated health, in particular for high workload (b up to -5.9), faculty shortcomings (b up to -5.7), and unsupportive climate (b up to -5.6).
DISCUSSION: Exposure to student life challenges and changes therein are associated with university students' health. Our findings suggest that student life challenges may be a target for interventions to improve mental health and self-rated health among university students.