2012. Vol.3, No.2, 132-135
Published Online February 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Prevalence of Depression and Suicidal Thoughts amongst
University Students in Poznan, Poland, Preliminary Report
Ewa Mojs, Katarzyna Warchol-Biederman, Wlodzimierz Samborski
Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Poznan, Poland
Received July 3rd, 2011; revised September 18th, 2011; accepted October 19th, 2011
Objective: The goal of the study was to evaluate the prevalence of depression and suicidal thoughts in
first year university students in Poznan, Poland and to assess whether they were connected with demo-
graphic factors such as age, having brothers or sisters, a specific social background or living arrangements,
one’s major and the mode of the study program. Method: 210 freshmen, who were 18 - 28 years old (M =
19.81; SD = 1.18) anonymously answered a questionnaire on their perception of the risk of depression
(KADS) and another demographics survey, including questions about age, having brothers/sisters, back-
ground, place of residence, living arrangements and their major (curriculum focus). Results: The analysis
has shown that as many as 36 subjects (17.1%) were at risk of depression and 18 of them (8.6%) had sui-
cidal thoughts. Among analyzed factors such as age, having brothers or sisters, social background, living
arrangements, curriculum major and the mode of study, only the financial status was found to have a sta-
tistically significant influence on both susceptibility to depression and suicidal thoughts. Conclusion: It
may be suggested that financial status most frequently influences depression in first year students but oth-
er agents leading to depression in students have not been clearly figured out or taken into account in
screening tools for depression. So, further research is necessary to find out factors, which perhaps sin-
gle-handedly or in connection with others, lead to or correlate with depression in college students.
Keywords: Depression; Suicide; Suicidal Thoughts; Student
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescence and
young adulthood. Due to the fact that suicide rates in young
people have continuously been increasing, its prevention re-
mains one of the most important challenges for mental health
research. Until now, several papers on youth suicide have been
published. Literature shows that many psychological, epidemi-
ological, socio-economic and psychiatric factors or processes
may lead to suicide [1-5].
From psychological point of view, the influence of family
life is essential because problems such as living amidst unre-
solved conflicts, loss of a parent, poor communication with
parents or poor parental mental health status may mean a great-
er risk of suicide or suicide behavior. Additionally, reports
indicate the impact of educational and economic disadvantage,
perceived life’s hardships, individual resilience to stress or
interplay of these agents can also be significant. Recent find-
ings point to the fact that self-inflicted death may be triggered
by internet or media, which disseminate pro-suicide materials
or websites (1-5).
Many reports indicate that depression is a significant agent
leading to suicide. Based on literature, Cash et al. said that up
to 60% of adolescent suicide victims had depression at the time
of death. Furthermore, between 40% - 80% of adolescents were
clinically depressed at the time of suicide attempt [2]. Depres-
sion has also been linked with suicidal thoughts or suicidal
ideation and tests such as Kutcher’s KADS and M-BDI were
used as screening tools to evaluate susceptibility to depression
and suicidal thoughts in young people [6-8]. Because of an
increase in suicide rates in Poland, the evaluation of prevalence
of depression and factors influencing its onset in young people
living in our country is becoming more and more important, not
only from theoretical, but also from practical point of view
For many reasons particular interest should be paid to de-
pression in first year university students. To begin with, first
year at a university is a time of transition, a sudden change in
the mode and organization of study. Additionally, starting col-
lege is often connected with leaving home, starting to live on
one’s own and new adult responsibilities. It may also mean
attenuated connections with a family of origin, losing touch
with one’s network of social support and adaptation to a new
social environment [14-18]. Until now, there have not been any
studies devoted to this area of interest in Poland. Here, however,
one should mention the study carried out by Mikolajczyk et al.
[8], who assessed prevalence of depression in samples of first
semester Polish, Danish, German and Bulgarian students. The
study showed that female gender and perceived income insuffi-
ciency were associated with higher levels of depressive symp-
toms. Nevertheless, one should note that Polish students in this
study were represented by participants from the Catholic Uni-
versity of Lublin, which is located in Eastern Poland. The
province of Lublin differs economically, culturally and socially
from most Polish provinces so the results of the study cannot be
generalized to the entire population of Polish students.
Taking into account the importance and consequences of de-
pression, especially in this age group, as well as current unsat-
isfactory state of knowledge concerning depression in freshmen
students the aim of our study was to estimate susceptibility to
depression and suicidal thoughts in freshmen students attending
universities in Poznan, Wielkopolska. We selected the Mid-
western Polish region of Wielkopolska because it is typical for
most parts of Poland and similar to Western Europe. We also
wanted to estimate whether the risk of depression and suicidal
thoughts in first year students was connected with demographic
factors such as age, having brothers or sisters, background,
living arrangements, one’s major and the mode of study.
Material and M ethods
Study participants were 210 freshmen studying psychology
(n = 135; 64.3%), midwifery (n = 52; 24.8%), physiotherapy (n
= 21; 10.0%), computer science (n = 1; .5%) and philosophy (n
= 1; .5%), who voluntarily and anonymously answered a ques-
tionnaire on the risk of depression (KADS) and a demographics
survey including questions about participant’s age, having
brothers/sisters, background, place of residence, living ar-
rangements and their major study area. They were 18 - 28 years
old (M = 19.81; SD = 1.18). The study was carried out in two
major universities: University of Medical Sciences and Adam
Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland.
KADS (The Kutcher Adolescent Depression Scale), which is
an extensively used self-report scale and a screening tool, de-
signed for use in institutional settings to identify young people
at risk of depression, consists of six statements on sadness,
hopelessness, tiredness, difficulties of life, worry and suicidal
thoughts. Subjects selected the most suitable answer on the 0 -
3 scale [0—hardly ever, 1—much of the time, 2—most of the
time, 3—all of the time].
They were examined individually in conditions ensuring that
their privacy and confidentiality were duly protected.
The test assumes anyone who scores six points and above is
at a risk of depression. The internal consistency (Cronbach’s α)
was = 84 whereas the correlations between test items ranged
from = .35 to = .66 (Pearson-r). Factor analysis has confirmed
univariate solution of equation. The questionnaire explains
56.88% variances of severity of depression.
Participants of the Study
Questionnaires and demographic surveys from 210 freshmen,
who were 18 - 28 years old (M = 19.81; SD = 1.18) were col-
lected. The analysis of demographics has shown that 81% of
the subjects were internal students (n = 170) while 19% of them
studied externally (n = 40). To add, 48.6% respondents had
either a sister or a brother (n = 102) while 24.8% of them had
two siblings (n = 52). 19 subjects (9%) had three or more sib-
lings while 37 of them (17.6%) were the only children.
The data on participants’ perceived financial status are pre-
sented on Table 1. They could describe their financial status
using the descriptors such as poor, average, good and very good.
Also, information on subjects’ background and current living
arrangements is presented on Table 2, Table 3 and Table 4
Procedure for Analysis of Results
The data were examined in three ways. Firstly, the frequency
distribution for the risk of depression was determined, both for
each questionnaire item and for the total score (see Table 1).
Secondly, the participants were divided into two subgroups in
respect to the six points score as an indicator differentiating
Table 1.
Relationships between individual KADS items (Pearson-r).
1 2 3 4 5
1. Sadness -
2. Hopelessness .66** -
3. Tiredness .47** .44** -
4. Difficulties of life .50** .53** .51** -
5. Worry .46** .50** .40** .54** -
6. Suicidal thoughts .47** 47** .35** .48** .43**
Table 2.
Financial status.
Frequency Percentage Valid
Bad 3 1.4 1.4 1.4
Medium 69 32.9 32.9 34.3
Good 95 45.2 45.2 79.5
Very good43 20.5 20.5 100.0
Total 210 100.0 100.0
Table 3.
Social background.
Frequency Percentage Valid
Village 45 21.4 21.4 21.4
up to 30,000)
44 21.0 21.0 42.4
City (population of
30,000 - 100,000) 39 18.6 18.6 61.0
City (population
of 100,000 -
32 15.2 15.2 76.2
City (population
of over 300,000
50 23.8 23.8 100.0
Total 210 100.0 100.0
Table 4.
Living arrangements.
Frequency Percentage Valid
At parent’s
home 55 26.2 26.2 26.2
sister/brother 8 3.8 3.8 30.0
Dormitory 24 11.4 11.4 41.4
Share a flat
with a
106 50.5 50.5 91.9
rent 8 3.8 3.8 95.7
With family 3 1.4 1.4 97.1
Rented room
at somebody’s
1 .5 .5 97.6
Own flat 5 2.4 2.4 100.0
Total 210 100.0 100.0
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 133
between subjects at risk (n = 36; 17.1%) from those not at risk
of depression (n = 174; 82.9%). Additionally, socio-demo-
graphic data of the two groups were compared by chi-square
test. Next, subjects were separated into subgroups with (n = 18;
8.6%) and without suicidal thoughts (n = 192; 91.4%) and then,
similarly as before, their socio-demographic data were analyzed
by chi-square test.
Description of the Analyzed Group—Severity of
The average test score equaled X = 3.20 (SD = 3.30; min = .00;
max = 18.00). The most frequent symptoms of depression in-
cluded worry (n = 115; 54.8%) and tiredness (n = 113; 53.8%)
whereas suicidal thoughts remained the least frequent symptom
whatsoever (n = 18; 8.6%) (Table 5).
The data obtained from respondents were examined in the
following way. 1. The participants were divided into two
subgroups with respect to the six points score as an indicator
differentiating subjects at risk (n = 36; 17.1%) from those not
at risk of depression (n = 174; 82.9%). Then, socio-demo-
graphic data of the two obtained subgroups were compared by
chi-square test. The analysis has not indicated any statistical
differences in the investigated demographic parameters (age,
gender, background, living arrangements, having brothers or
sisters, participant’s major and the mode of study) between
subjects with and without a risk of depression. In contrast, the
study showed statistically significant differences between
analyzed subgroups in the perceived financial status. The
analysis indicated that students who perceived their financial
status as either good or very good were less susceptible to
depression than respondents who believed they were poor or
participants who thought their financial status was average
(2(1) = 8.724; p < .01).
2. The subjects were separated into subgroups with (n = 18;
8.6%) and without suicidal thoughts (n = 192; 91.4%) and then,
as previously, their socio-demographic data were analyzed by
chi-square test. As before, out of all investigated determinants
only the factor of perceived financial status significantly sepa-
rated the two groups in question (2(1) = 3.953; p = .047). Dif-
ferences were found between subjects who perceived their fi-
nancial status as good or very good and respondents who be-
lieved they were poor or considered their financial status as
Table 5.
Frequency of answers to individual KADS items.
ever Much of
the time Most of
the time All of
the time
1. Sadness 110 (52.4%) 69 (32.9%) 26 (12.4%)5 (2.4%)
2. Hopelessness 128 (61.0%) 62 (29.5%) 14 (6.7%)6 (2.9%)
3. Tiredness 97 (46.2%) 78 (37.1%) 30 (14.3%)5 (2.4%)
4. Difficulties of life 140 (66.7%) 51 (24.3%) 14 (6.7%)5 (2.4%)
5. Worry 95 (45.2%) 85 (40.5%) 21 (10.0%)9 (4.3%)
6. Suicidal thoughts 192 (91.4%) 12 (5.7%) 2 (1.0%) 4 (1.9%)
The goal of our study was to evaluate prevalence of depres-
sion and suicidal thoughts in first year university students in
Poznań, Poland, who came from the province of Great Poland
(Wielkopolska) in Midwestern Poland. We also evaluated
whether depression and suicidal thoughts were associated with
demographic factors such as age or living arrangements. The
analysis has shown that as many as 17.1% of participants were
at risk of depression and 8.6% of them had suicidal thoughts. In
the present study, among analyzed factors such as age, having
brothers or sisters, background, living arrangements, partici-
pant’s major and the mode of study, only perceived financial
status was significantly associated with susceptibility to de-
pression. Also, we found a similar effect of perceived financial
status on suicidal thoughts. This observation confirmed a well-
described relation between depression and suicidal thoughts [2].
Our results, however, differ from the outcomes of international
investigation by Mikolajczyk and colleagues [8], who also in-
dicated an association between income perceived as insufficient
and higher levels of depressive symptoms but observed much
higher incidence of depressive symptoms ( 40% of Polish stu-
dents in Mikolajczyk’s the study met the criteria for depression).
The Mikolajczyk’s group also investigated prevalence of de-
pressive symptoms in students living in Poland (the Lublin
province), Denmark, Bulgaria and Germany and compared their
results to an earlier study of college students living in the same
countries [19,20]. With the use of modified version of Beck
Depression Inventory (M-BDI) they could observe that suscep-
tibility to depression was higher among students living in for-
mer Eastern bloc countries (i.e. 45.5% and 27.3% for Polish as
compared to 24.9% and 12.1% for Danish female and male
students respectively). Additionally, they demonstrated that
neither political and economic changes in Eastern European
countries nor perceived income sufficiency clearly affected
differences in the prevalence of depressive symptoms across
countries. They concluded that difference in prevalence of de-
pressive symptoms in Eastern (Bulgarian and Polish) and
Western European (Danish and German) university students
persisted 15 years after political changes had taken place and
could not be explained by differences in perceived sufficiency
of income [8]. The aforementioned differences between Miko-
lajczyk’s study on depression in students residing in Lublin
(40% after calculation) and the results of our study of students
attending universities in Poznan (17.1%) are so huge that they
might not be explained by different tools used in the study
(M-BDI versus KADS) or time difference. Also, in the light of
Mikolajczyk’s study, they should not be attributed to subject’s
perceived financial status. Yet, it would be valuable to consider
the influence of environmental factors, culture, tradition and
socio-economic status [17]. Great Poland is significantly weal-
thier and much better economically developed then the region
of Lublin, where the Mikolajczyk’s study was carried out. Lub-
lin is located in an unprivileged area of Poland which is in need
of special European funds to help it grow. It is often called
second-class Poland (Poland B). Nevertheless, this argument
becomes doubtful in view of a study of Turkish students in
Denizli. Despite cultural, social and religious differences, their
results were similar to ours [9].
The analysis of agents influencing depression should take
into consideration other determinants such as the fact that stu-
dents are a specific group of people who want to climb up on a
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 135
social ladder. To be accepted to university they have to pass
necessary examinations and compete with their peers. The
process of admission to the university not only entails prepara-
tion and continuous effort to maintain one’s student status but
is also very stressful. Also, there may be local differences in
student’s aspiration to complete university education. Perhaps
for young people in Lublin the ambition to become a student is
more stressful than for youth living in the Wielkopolska region,
who have a wider access to education at university level. The
effect of one’s aspiration to complete university education
could to some extent be supported by publications devoted to
medical students, in whom depressive symptoms were linked to
stress accompanying becoming a medical doctor (e.g. increas-
ing workload, level of academic pressure, inadequate social life
and resulting low perceived interpersonal social support)
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