Stress and the undergraduates

Singapore Med J. 1999 Oct;40(10):627-30.


Objectives: To assess the psychological health of undergraduates during their initial entry to the University, and to identify common sources of stress in their lives.

Method: All first year law and medical undergraduates were administered a series of questionnaires.

Results: Of the 135 medical and 128 law first year undergraduates surveyed using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) to measure psycho-emotional distress, 77 medical students (57%) and 69 law students (47.3%) scored above the traditional cut-off of 4/5 points. Law students had significantly lower (p < 0.05) Life-Events Scores (mean 40.62, SD 29.30) than medical students (mean 55.62, SD 31.70). There was no statistical significant difference between medical (mean 89.32, SD 18.36) and law (mean 93.39, SD +/- 19.76) students (p = 0.88) in Type A Behavioural Pattern (TAPB). Hostelites (n = 67) reported significantly higher (p < 0.05) LES (mean 56.22, SD +/- 28.17) than non-hostelites (n = 196, mean 45.40, SD +/- 32.04). The commonest life events experienced in the past twelve months by the students were: (1) Difficulty keeping up with reading (84.4%), (2) Increased amount of academic work (82.5%), (3) Difficulty in tutorials (66.5%), (4) Little time for personal activities (61.6%) and (5) Difficulties in lectures as well as (6) peer competition (each 46.8%). Law students cited more relationship problems, while medical students were more troubled by academic work. When faced with a problem, more than seven out of ten students would turn to friends and classmates for help. The other common avenues of support were the family, and religion. A substantial proportion of law (37.5%) and medical (31.1%) students preferred to keep their problems to themselves; significantly (p < 0.00001) more of them (72.2%) were high GHQ scorers than other students (high GHQ scorers 47.4%). Interestingly 27.8% of these students turn to religion for emotional support.

Conclusion: Health education programmes, mentorship and a reduction in information overload in the curriculum can be important strategies to enable undergraduates cope better with the demands of tertiary education.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Singapore
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workload