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Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health disorders (CMDs) affecting university students globally and are responsible for a significant proportion of the global burden of disease.

A South African study surveying nearly 30 000 university students found prevalence estimates to be highest (21 – 24.5%) for anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (Bantjes et al., 2023). A study among first year university students in South Africa reported Major Depressive Disorder as the most common life-time disorder in this population (Bantjes et al., 2019).

There are many factors proposed to affect student mental health including childhood adversity, financial stressors, psychosocial stressors, academic related stressors and bullying.

Impact of mental health disorders in this population

The consequences of these disorders are varied, both in terms of impact and severity. These may include:

  • Impaired functioning
  • Poor academic performance
  • Increased substance use

To illustrate the impact of CMDs on academic performance, a study conducted at two South African universities concluded that academic failure increased significantly in students who reported Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Bantjes et al., 2021).

Therefore, addressing common mental disorders among students can likely prove to be beneficial, both for student’s success in their academic career as well as later in life. Identifying and targeting student populations most at risk and designing context-specific interventions suited to the needs of our student population may be one way to mitigate the burden of common mental disorders.