Number of Depressed College Students On the Rise, Study Says

Filed under: Behavior: Teens, Nutrition: Teens, Education: Teens

depressed college students

A breeding ground for depressed students. Credit: AP

Parents hear a lot of buzz about the stress college students face today, regardless of whether or not their coed is exaggerating when she says she is homesick. New research suggests parents should pay attention to these cues because they may have something serious to worry about: depression.

A recent study of college students suggests that their declining emotional condition is a critical situation schools have failed to fully address, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The results are discouraging, says Michael Fleming, one of the study's lead authors and a professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

"I think the stress of academic performance has helped cause an increase in the rate of depression among students," Fleming tells the Tribune. "That's why it's important to take the opportunity to screen at every visit."

If colleges boost their depression screening efforts for all students, that would be the first step toward better emotional health, Fleming tells the Tribune. About 25 percent of all students who visited on-campus health centers were diagnosed as depressed, according to the report published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

The researchers recommend that university health centers should conduct comprehensive screenings of all student visitors to more accurately assess how many may be at risk of depression.

Researchers spent two years surveying more than 1,600 college students who visited health centers on the campuses of the University of British Columbia, the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin.

The study, "Depression and Suicide Ideation among Students Accessing Campus Healthcare," was the first of its kind to screen for depression among a large pool of students who were visiting a campus health center to seek treatment for ailment or injury, according to the report.

By screening more students, Fleming says, the research team found the rates of depression and suicidal thoughts were nearly twice as high as those found in previous studies. Those studies were based on students' answers on general college surveys and data collected from those who visited counseling centers, he tells the Tribune.

"Depression screening is easy to do," Fleming says. "We know it works, and it can save lives."

A growing number of studies are focusing on the rising number of college students diagnosed with depression and other emotional conditions.

According to the International Association of Counseling Services' 2010 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors, 91 percent of the more than 300 counseling center directors surveyed reported seeing an increase in numbers of students with psychological problems over the past year, reports the Tribune.

Another recently published study that surveyed incoming college freshmen found the number of students who ranked their emotional health as "below average" was the highest in more than 20 years.

"It's really hard to know why our numbers are going up," Dianna Stencel, a licensed clinical social worker at Loyola University Chicago's campus health center, tells the Tribune. "Some speculate that our medications are so much better now that people who traditionally wouldn't have been able to go to school away from home are able to do that now."

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