Addressing the GSA annual conference in Manchester, Mrs Low said the figures were “frightening” and may be exaggerated by modern schooling.
“We must not underestimate the increasing pressure posed by the education system itself,” she said.
“Consider, for example, the endless testing, and the introduction of the A* at A-levels, and the consequently higher hurdles for some top universities, together with the devaluing of the A.
“And consider too the A* at GCSE – just one mistake on a bad day, at just 16, that brings an A* grade down to an A and it’s no go at certain universities for you. And what about the increasingly intense competition for university places and the huge debts our future undergraduates are likely to incur?”
She said other problems stemmed from society at large, where young people “face the celebrity culture, the pressure to look good, the insecurity of some families, the dangers of the internet, economic uncertainty, the challenge of finding work [and] the financial inability to leave home and set up independently”.
In a speech to head teachers, Mrs Low said the exam-based education system failed to prioritise “scholarship” or allow pupils to develop their knowledge, creativity and intellectual understanding.
Everything today’s teenagers did was geared towards their future study and career, she said, with young people no longer able to take gap years before university to broaden their horizons.
She rejected calls by Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, to rename the gap year a “bridging year” in which students spend their time making themselves more appealing to universities.
Mrs Low said: “In the current climate of competition for university places, I can of course understand the rationale for her advice, but must we really forget in entirety travelling to, say, Asia or South America, contributing to local communities in worthwhile ways, the buzz of adventure and discovery, making great friends and experiencing life around the world?
“Can they not be carefree, be young, for even a short time, and in that time, develop the confidence and resilience they will so badly need, broaden their interests, grow up and experience life independent of their parents?”