The College Kids Aren't All Right, They're Depressed

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens

Today's college students are 10 percent more likely to be depressed than they were 10 years ago. Credit: Getty

If your college kid texts home to say he's hunkering down in his dorm on weekend nights and too exhausted to haul himself out of bed to head to class, don't pull out the tuition plug just yet. He may not be a slacker, he could be seriously depressed.

NPR reports more college kids than ever -- 10 percent more than a decade ago -- are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, according to a new study by the American Psychological Association. And, another recent study, conducted at Northwestern University, finds one out of every four or five students who visits a university health center for a routine cold or sore throat turns out to have undiagnosed depression, according to a release.

The number of 18- to 21-year-olds seeking treatment for emotional ills is on the rise because of the success of treating high school-age students who then go on to college, the study shows. In the past, these kids might not have made it out of high school, but because there are more effective counseling services in place for high school students with learning disabilities and emotional problems, they typically manage the depression and go on to college, according to NPR.

The researchers looked at the records of 3,256 college students who sought college counseling support between September 1997 and August 2009 at a mid-sized private university. The results were presented this week at the 118th annual convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego.

"These are youngsters many of whom in the past wouldn't have even finished high school," Katherine Nordal, Ph.D, with the American Psychological Association, tells NPR. "Special education services in high school mean that more students with emotional difficulties and special needs are going on to college with their more emotionally stable counterparts."


In the Northwestern study, 2 to 3 percent of the depressed students had experienced suicidal thoughts.

"Depression screening is easy to do, we know it works and it can save lives," Michael Fleming, professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, says in the release. "It should be done for every student who walks into a health center."

The consequences of not finding and treating these students can be serious and even deadly.

"These kids might drop out of school because they are so sad or hurt or kill themselves by drinking too much or taking drugs," Fleming says in the release.

Nordal tells NPR she hopes the findings will send a strong message to college administrators across the country, where the majority of the mental health counseling centers are understaffed and overwhelmed.

Parents should pay attention to the following symptoms in their college students, Nordal tells NPR:

  • Distancing themselves from friends
  • Losing interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Becoming irritable or angry
  • Having sudden outbursts toward people close to them
  • Changes in eating and sleeping
  • Sudden unexplainable episodes of fearlessness

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.