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Open Access Research article

Psychological distress in French college students: demographic, economic and social stressors. Results from the 2010 National Health Barometer

Thomas Saïas12*, Enguerrand du Roscoät13, Laurentine Véron4, Romain Guignard1, Jean-Baptiste Richard1, Stéphane Legleye5, Fanny Sauvade4, Viviane Kovess6 and François Beck17

Author Affiliations

1 Institut National de Prévention et d’Education pour la Santé, 42 Bd de la Libération, Saint-Denis, Cedex 93203, France

2 Département de Psychologie, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada

3 EA 4386 - Laboratoire Parisien de Psychologie Sociale (LAPPS), Université Paris Ouest Nanterre-La Défense, Nanterre, France

4 Aspytude, 20 cours Vitton, Lyon 69006, France

5 INED, 133 boulevard Davout, Cedex 20 75980, Paris

6 Département Epidemiologie et Biostatistiques EHESP, EA4069 Université Paris Descartes SPC, Avenue du Professeur Léon-Bernard CS 74312, Rennes 35043, Paris

7 Cermes3 - Equipe Cesames (Centre de recherche Médecine, Sciences, Santé, Santé mentale, Société, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité/CNRS UMR 8211/Inserm U988/EHESS), Paris, France

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:256  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-256

Published: 17 March 2014



Psychological distress (PD) in students is under-investigated, since its prevalence can be high in certain subgroups of students and it has been seen to be associated with other mental health issues and academic achievement. In a sample of French college students, this study investigated factors associated with PD, and looked more closely at the impact of social and interpersonal variables.


Data were extracted from the 2010 French “National Health Barometer”. 946 students were interviewed. Mental health was assessed using the MH-5 five-item scale.


The PD rate in this sample was 13.8% (7.2% in males, 19.5% in females). Low income, nonsexual assault in the last 12 months, studying law and low social participation were associated with PD in multivariate analyses.


French students show specific characteristics that are discussed in order to explain the relatively low rate of PD observed. The impact of loneliness and social isolation are a major focus for preventive policies based on community resources and early detection of the symptoms of PD.

Psychological distress; Students; Risk factors; Social isolation; Prevention