College Depression Headlines Misleading
> 6/1/2009 8:09:18 AM

Most American health news outlets have recently run stories revolving around a survey in which 85% of college students reported high stress in their daily lives and a near majority supposedly described themselves as “depressed” or "hopeless." While we can see why some have been tempted to interpret these findings as a reflection on young America’s poor psychological state, the survey's final numbers closely adhere in most respects to those of similar surveys, taken every year in American schools, that uncover a significant but not overwhelming degree of mental health problems on our campuses. Most of the media reports on this study place the blame for supposedly rising rates of depression on the country's current economic troubles. This may well be true in a minority of cases, but the basic statistics are no higher this year than last year, before the collapse began in earnest.
Despite 42% of students answering yes to questions about whether they had felt “down, hopeless, or depressed” in the weeks preceding the survey, the fact that only "13 percent showed signs of being at risk for at least mild depression" hints at the fact that the survey's questions (not provided by any of the related stories) may have been leading and that its statistical findings have been overhyped for dramatic effect. That number in particular remains in keeping with yearly averages. Perhaps the most significant statistics noted in the study are these: students whose parent or parents lost jobs in the recent wake of layoffs were twice as likely to report symptoms in keeping with clinical depression and less than half of the students reporting suicidal thoughts sought outside help over the past year. If any schools change their approach to mental health concerns after reading this study, they might encourage kids whose families are in an economic tight spot to speak with a counselor. Outreach efforts should be even more intense for those who've considered harming themselves: PR campaigns may help to improve the unfortunate numbers.

The study notes that most students, even those at greatest risk of depression, had not sought professional help, and most of those interviewed for the various stories also reported encountering a stigma surrounding mental illness in which those who sought a counselor were considered weak. While unfortunate, this trend is nothing new. When broken down to pure statistics, the study simply does not reveal a particularly higher prevalence of general depression among college students. This conclusion in no way negates the importance of regular mental health checkups for every college student, especially those who've demonstrated the behavioral symptoms of serious mental health problems or suicidal tendencies. The fact remains that college is both an exciting and an extremely challenging period in young adulthood. Despite the amplified economic uncertainties of the present day, any statements naming a new mental health "epidemic" should be taken with a generous grain of salt.  

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy