Depression in Students
Students may be particularly vulnerable to depression, with rates at around 14 percent according to one study in Dublin, Ireland. The background rate among the general population is thought to be around eight to 12 percent.
About half (46.7 percent) of U.S. young people aged 18 to 24 years are enrolled in college on a part-time or full-time basis, so this represents a significant number of individuals. The 2006 National Survey of Counseling Centers showed that 92 percent of college directors believe the number of students with severe psychological problems has increased in recent years, and is “a growing concern.”
Furthermore, long-term studies suggest an increase in depression over the course of higher education. A study from the Netherlands found higher burnout rates among fifth-year dental students than first-year students, especially emotional exhaustion and psychological distress. Both were linked to worse mental health.
Depression was recorded in 18 percent of students entering the University of Massachusetts Medical School; this rose to 39 percent in year two, and reduced slightly to 31 percent in year four. The increase over time was greater among females and those with more perceived stress. Students in medical, dental, law and nursing education often show particular rises in depression.
Combined anxiety disorder and depression affected about 16 percent of undergraduates at the University of Michigan in 2007, with thoughts of suicide among two percent of students. Students with financial problems were at increased risk.
In 2008, a team from Columbia University found that psychiatric disorders affect up to half of college students, but fewer than 25 percent of those with a mental disorder sought treatment in the year before the survey.
The researchers state, “The importance of the mental health of college students is highlighted by studies suggesting that psychiatric disorders interfere with college attendance and reduce the likelihood of successful college completion, while others suggest that college students have higher rates of substance use and alcohol use disorders.”
They confirmed the increased rates of substance and alcohol use, and found that relationship breakdown and loss of social support raised the risk for psychiatric disorders. “Life stressors were relatively uncommon in this population,” they write, “but when present, they increased the risk. College-age individuals may have less well-developed coping mechanisms or less experience than older adults with romantic disappointment and interpersonal losses, making them particularly vulnerable to the effect of these and related stressors.”