College campuses welcome excited high school graduates every year, most of whom are between ages 18 and 25. This is also when symptoms of potential mental health problems begin to emerge in people susceptible to mental health disorders.
Though the statistics and research on the rates of depression in college students vary, it all concludes the same way. The number of college students struggling with depression is on the rise.
In a survey conducted by the American College Health Association, more than 45% of students said they felt so depressed that it was difficult to function in their day-to-day lives.
In an effort to meet the demand of student mental health needs, campuses have increased services and made suicide awareness a priority. Check to see if college campuses offer a Student Assistance Program for students. Student Assistant Programs typically offer in-person or video counseling, consultative services and on-going well-being communication. September is suicide prevention month and a great time to have a conversation with your teens and young adults about depression, suicide, and how and where they can get help.
Major Causes of Depression in College Students
Leaving home for the first time is as frightening as it is exciting. It is also a significant life transition in a young adult's world, and increasingly many are not well prepared to adapt to or navigate life on their own.
Social interactions can also trigger depressive episodes. Interacting is difficult enough when you don't know anyone, but social media has brought a whole new meaning to the word difficult with its different platforms and selfies.
Social media posts usually take a distorted view of reality. Young adults post photos and status updates of them smiling, partying, having fun, looking beautiful and showing themselves as popular.
They hide the struggles they face and take to bullying peers who seem to have difficulty adjusting. It's easy for a college student to begin to wonder if something is wrong with him.
The high cost of a college education means many kids live at home longer under the watchful eyes of parents’ intent on their child's success. When they leave home, they have not developed basic independent living skills such as laundry, time management, money management and accessing services to meet their needs.
Add relationship changes and heavy class schedules to the mix while they are still figuring out who they are and where they belong in the world, and you have a bakery full of overwhelmed kids.
Other causes of depression in college students include:
• Peer/social relationship difficulties
• Sexual identity adjustment issues
• Drug or alcohol use
• Sexual assault
• Family history of depression
• Stressful life event
• Fear of disappointing parents because of grades or career choice
And, of course, no article about depression is complete without bringing up the COVID pandemic. Last year, 2020, the rate of depression sharply increased as students struggled with isolation, fear, anxiety and financial difficulties.
A 2020 survey of college students published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research investigated the mental health of US college students during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that among 2031 participants, 48% showed moderate to severe depression.
Additionally, less than half of the participants felt they were unable to adequately cope with the stress level of the current situation.
"US college students during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that among 2031 participants, 48% showed moderate to severe depression."
Understanding Depression and Preventing Suicide – What are the Signs?
In a recent national survey, 16% of college students reported that they had been previously diagnosed with a depressive disorder, and 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. Men are at exceptionally high risk for suicide as they are four to six times more likely to die by suicide than women.
The chances of a student committing suicide are higher when risk factors such as a family history of mental disorder or suicide are present, a history of family violence or abuse, or access to a firearm or other lethal means.
Warning signs of depression and suicide include:
• Dramatic mood changes
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Deteriorating academic performance
• Preoccupation with death
• Uncontrolled anger and rage
• Anxiety or agitation
• Engaging in risk activities
• Increased drug or alcohol abuse
• Withdrawing from friends and family
• Neglecting appearance
• Giving away prized possessions
Suicide is preventable. Medication and psychotherapy are effective in treating symptoms that lead to suicide. In many cases, therapy alone can successfully treat depression.
6 Tips to Deal with Depression in College
Depression can take over a student's life suddenly and unexpectedly, and it can happen to anyone. It is critical that discussions take place about depression, where to get help, and that it's nothing to be embarrassed about or try to hide. Everyone struggles at different points in their lives.
Though professional help is best, once a person has reached a state of depression some things can be done to decrease the odds of becoming depressed.
1. Get familiar with your school before classes begin –
attending orientation will help students be familiar with their surroundings. Still, sometimes the idea of being around so many students and getting so much information at once is overwhelming. One way to combat this is to have students organize their orientation at a pace that feels comfortable. It is a good idea to visit the campus several times to learn the school's layout, discover where students like to hang out and find out where the student counselor's offices are located.
2. Think about the person you are right now –
Spending time thinking of themselves as they are, without labels other people have given them, helps students get a sense of what is important to them. Understanding the things they believe in; what makes them happy or angry; what they value in themselves and what they have achieved builds confidence and helps them stay grounded.
3. Have a solid support system in place –
Students should have a source for regular interaction with friends and family. Phone calls, texts, video calls offer a lifeline for the student and a way for the family to look for signs of depression.
4. Have a plan for studying –
Freshman year is overwhelming with the number of classes, papers, exams and learning demands of college. Students are not accustomed to managing unstructured free time, and time management skills will be essential for academic success and less stress.
5. Eat, sleep, and skip the "be merry" –
If ever there was a time to forget the drugs and alcohol, now would be it. Both are depressants and only increase the chances of being unable to cope with the onset of depression. Proper nutrition is essential to a still developing brain, and getting enough sleep can make the difference between passing and failing a class.
6. Be courageous enough to ask for help –
When all else fails, get help. Resources are available for a reason. People need them. They use them to clear a path through the jungle of confusion and overwhelm students encounter on a college campus.
Preparing a strategy for success ahead of time can solve a lot of unexpected problems. When students know what to do and when to do it, it removes a considerable burden.
And although asking for help may be uncomfortable, doing so shows strength, resilience, and desire to succeed.
When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program (a total Well-being Program) OR a Student Assistance Program can help employees, students and employers come closer to a state of total well-being. To enhance employee well-being, we also offer a vast array of digital employee training classes as well as in person training.
Center, G. S. (n.d.). Why Is Suicide So Common Among College Students? Retrieved from Governor State University: https://www.govst.edu/suicide-prevention/College Depression: Why It Occurs & How to Deal With It. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from Trade
Schools Collages and Universities: https://www.trade-schools.net/articles/college-depressionWhat parents need to know about college students and depression. (2021, September 7). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/college-students-and-depressionXiaomei Wang, B. P. (2020, September 17). nvestigating Mental Health of US
College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cross-Sectional Survey Study. (G. Eysenbach, Ed.) Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9) e22817.