An intersectional approach to understanding common mental disorders and suicidality in minority university students


Supervisor: Dr Stephani Hatch

Non-accademic partner: Student Minds

Recent survey data estimated 15% of UK university students report suicidal ideation and 3% report attempting suicide in the last 12 months. (Eskin, M. et al., 2016) A UK survey estimated 27% self report a mental health problem, with depression(77%) and anxiety(74%) related symptoms being the most common. (Aronin, S., & Smith, M., 2016) Academic-related stress, financial concerns, and poor adjustment to university life are unique psychological stressors for students in HEIs. (Stallman, H. M., 2008; Topham, P. & Moller, N., 2010; Friedlander, L., Reid, G., Shupak, N., & Cribbie, R., 2007; Andrews, B. & Wilding J.M., 2004; Cooke, R., Bewick, B.M., Barkham, M., Bradley, M. & Audin, K., 2006) Data on what UK HEI institutional factors are associated with common mental disorders and suicidality in students are unknown. Research in young adults suggests certain sociodemographic and socioeconomic dimensions–e.g. ethnic minority, female, LGBTQI+ groups–are significant predictors of psychological distress. (Lessof, C., Ross, A., Brind, R., Bell, E., & Newton, S., 2016; Assari, S., 2017; McDonald, K., 2018) There is a lack of research into whether similar patterns of mental health inequality are present in the UK university student population.

Intersectionality is an analytical framework used by social scientists to attempt to identify how interlocking systems of social positions (e.g. power and privilege) and social identities (e.g. ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) impact on the lived experiences and mental health of those who are most marginalized in society. (Crenshaw, K., 1989; Crenshaw, K., 1991; Kohn, L., & Hudson, K., 2002; van Mens-Verhulst, J. & Radtke, L., 2008)

This study will use intersectionality to fill the gaps in the literature to address the following aims: 1) explore the role of contextual, social and institutional factors that shape students’ experiences of common mental disorders (CMD) and suicidality; 2) estimate the prevalence of CMD and suicidality, as well as how prevalence differs by the intersection of sociodemographic and socioeconomic indicators; and 3) examine the association between key social determinants (known risk factors and those identified as important from the qualitative findings) and mental health outcomes in the total sample and at the intersection of social statuses.