The study aimed to explore changes in the prevalence of psychological distress and co-occurring psychological symptoms among 19-34 years old Finnish university students between the years 2000 and 2012.
The prevalence of perceived frequent psychological symptoms was compared in four nationwide cross-sectional student health surveys with random samples (N=11,502) in the following years: 2000 (N=3,174), 2004 (N=3,153), 2008 (N=2,750), and 2012 (N=2,425).
In the time phase from 2000 to 2012, the overall psychological distress (12-item General Health Questionnaire, GHQ-12) increased from 22% to 28%, while there was also an increase in the frequently experienced psychological symptoms (depressiveness from 13% to 15%, anxiety from 8% to 13%, concentration problems from 12% to 18%, and psychological tension from 13% to 18% with a peak prevalence observed in 2008). The co-occurrence of different psychological symptoms increased as well. Psychological distress was more common in females and in older students.
The findings suggest an increasing trend of frequent psychological distress among Finnish university students over the years from 2000 to 2012, with the peak prevalence occurring in 2008, which may reflect the growing multifaceted environmental demands.