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Colleges Miss Chance to ID Depressed Students

Depression often Missed In College StudentsA new study suggests one out of every four or five students who visits a university health center for a routine cold or sore throat turns out to be depressed.

However, most centers miss the opportunity to identify these students because they don’t screen for depression, according to a new Northwestern University study.

About 2 to 3 percent of these depressed students have had suicidal thoughts or are considering suicide, the study found.

“Depression screening is easy to do, we know it works, and it can save lives,” said Michael Fleming, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“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 said.

“Things continually happen to students — a low grade or problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend — that can trigger depression,” Fleming said. “If you don’t take the opportunity to screen at every visit, you are going to miss these kids.”

Fleming is lead author of the paper in the January issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

The study is the first to screen for depression in a large population of students who are coming to campus health centers for routine care.

Prior depression studies have been conducted by surveying general college samples or students in counseling centers. The frequency of depression and suicidal thoughts among campus health clinic users was nearly twice as high as rates reported in general college samples.

Depressed students need treatment, which may include counseling and medication. These students are more likely to drink, smoke and be involved in intimate partner violence, the study found.

With new technology, screening students is simple, Fleming noted. While waiting for an appointment at the health center, the student could answer seven simple questions – a depression screening tool that that could be immediately entered into his electronic health record.

“They can answer those seven questions in a minute,” Fleming said.

When the doctor or nurse sees the student, she then could address the student’s sadness or depression.

Universities typically separate mental health treatment from primary care treatment. If a student comes to a campus health center and complains about depression, he is referred to a counseling center.

“But students don’t necessarily get there unless they are pretty depressed,” Fleming said. “If we screen, we can try to find every student that is depressed.”

Historical perceptions and biases against preventive screenings are that kids who need treatment the most don’t go to campus health centers, and they won’t tell the truth about their depression.

That’s wrong, Fleming said.

“Students will tell you the truth,” Fleming said. “If they are sad and depressed, they will tell you that. And kids who are drinking too much or who are suicidal do go to the campus health centers.”

The study also found that students who exercise frequently are not as depressed. “That’s the one thing that seemed to be protective,” Fleming said.

The study surveyed 1,622 college students at college campuses including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.

Source: Northwestern University

Colleges Miss Chance to ID Depressed Students

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Colleges Miss Chance to ID Depressed Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/01/11/colleges-miss-chance-to-id-depressed-students/22498.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.