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Open Access Research article

Mental health and behaviour of students of public health and their correlation with social support: a cross-sectional study

Éva Bíró1, Róza Ádány2 and Karolina Kósa13*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Health Promotion, Department of Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Public Health, Medical and Health Science Centre, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary

2 Department of Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Public Health, Medical and Health Science Centre, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary

3 4012 Debrecen, Hungary, POB. 2

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:871  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-871

Published: 16 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Future public health professionals are especially important among students partly because their credibility in light of their professional messages and activities will be tested daily by their clients; and partly because health professionals' own lifestyle habits influence their attitudes and professional activities. A better understanding of public health students' health and its determinants is necessary for improving counselling services and tailoring them to demand. Our aim was to survey public health students' health status and behaviour with a focus on mental health.

Methods

A cross-sectional study was carried out among public health students at 1-5-years (N = 194) with a self-administered questionnaire that included standardized items on demographic data, mental wellbeing characterized by sense of coherence (SoC) and psychological morbidity, as well as health behaviour and social support. Correlations between social support and the variables for mental health, health status and health behaviour were characterized by pairwise correlation.

Results

The response rate was 75% and represented students by study year, sex and age in the Faculty. Nearly half of the students were non-smokers, more than one quarter smoked daily. Almost one-fifth of the students suffered from notable psychological distress. The proportion of these students decreased from year 1 to 5. The mean score for SoC was 60.1 and showed an increasing trend during the academic years. 29% of the students lacked social support from their student peers. Significant positive correlation was revealed between social support and variables for mental health. Psychological distress was greater among female public health students than in the same age female group of the general population; whereas the lack of social support was a more prevalent problem among male students.

Conclusions

Health status and behaviour of public health students is similar to their non-students peers except for their worse mental health. Future public health professionals should be better prepared for coping with the challenges they face during their studies. Universities must facilitate this process by providing helping services targeted at those with highest risk, and developing training to improve coping skills. Social support is also a potentially amenable determinant of mental health during higher education.