By Glenn Wolff, LCSW, Individual Group Therapy, Wolff Psychotherapy
A lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and not enough exercise make up a recipe for depression among college students. The stress that comes with academia—including pressure to get good grades, financial worries, failed relationships and conflicts with roommates—are enough to force some students to leave college or worse.
In fact, depression is the No. 1 reason students drop out of school or commit suicide.
Depression Among College Students Statistics
Depression is an epidemic among college students. Some of the more alarming statistics:
- 1 out of every 4 college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression
- 44 percent of American college students report having symptoms of depression
- 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health problems
- suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students
- young people diagnosed with depression are five times more likely to attempt suicide than adults
- 19 percent of young people in the U.S. either contemplate or attempt suicide every year
- 4 out of every 5 college students who either contemplate or attempt suicide show clear warning signs
The Risks of Depression Among College Students
A recent U.K. study found that the current generation of university students are at a greater risk of anxiety and depression than their predecessors. The study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that many students are unprepared for university life and face higher debt and fewer job prospects than previous generations of students. Many students will simply drop out of school.
In addition to dropping out, depressed students are at a greater risk of developing problems such as substance abuse. In fact, more than two-thirds of young people with substance abuse issues also suffer from a diagnosable mental illness such as depression.
Depressed college students are more likely to binge drink, smoke marijuana, and participate in risky sexual behaviors to cope with emotional pain than are their non-depressed peers.
The Problem With Young Love
Often, a breakup will precipitate a bout of depression. This is especially true for young women. College-aged women experience greater distress, ruminate on a former relationship longer, and have higher rates of sadness, anxiety, and overall negative emotions than do young men.
Risks of depression related to a breakup include intrusive thoughts, difficulty controlling those thoughts, and trouble sleeping. As many as 43 percent of students experience insomnia in the months following a breakup. Students that are most likely to become distressed after a breakup experienced neglect or abuse during childhood, had an insecure attachment style, felt more betrayed, and were more unprepared for the breakup.
Fortunately, the best therapy for depression precipitated by a breakup is time.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and, especially, complicated grief therapy have high success rates for helping to heal a broken heart.
Suicide and College Students
In the U.S., suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Young men commit suicide at five times the rate of young women, although female college students attempt suicide more often. The majority of young people who commit suicide do so with guns.
Depression is the biggest risk factor for suicidal youth. Other risk factors include:
- substance abuse
- a family history of depression and mental illness
- a prior suicide attempt
- stressful life events
- access to guns
- exposure to other students who have committed suicide
- self-harming behaviors such as burning or cutting
Diagnosing and Treating Depression in College Students
College is a stressful environment for most young people, therefore it’s especially important for parents, friends, faculty, and counselors to get involved if they suspect a student is suffering from depression.
Students themselves are often reluctant to seek help due to social stigmas related to depression. A mental health evaluation that encompasses a student’s developmental and family history, school performance, and any self-injurious behaviors should be performed to evaluate at-risk students before a treatment plan is made.
The best treatments for college-aged students suffering from depression are usually a combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. Depressed students are also more likely to benefit from exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough rest than many other groups.