Washington Stress over grades. Financial worries. Trouble sleeping. Feeling hopeless.
So much for those carefree college days.
The vast majority of college students are feeling stressed these days, and significant numbers are at risk of depression, according to an Associated Press-mtvU poll.
Eighty-five percent of the students reported feeling stress in their daily lives in recent months, with worries about grades, school work, money and relationships the big culprits.
At the same time, 42 percent said they had felt down, depressed or hopeless several days during the past two weeks, and 13 percent showed signs of being at risk for at least mild depression, based on the students’ answers to a series of questions that medical practitioners use to diagnose depressive illness.
These students complained of trouble sleeping, having little energy or feeling down or hopeless — and most hadn’t gotten professional help. Eleven percent had had thoughts that they’d be better off dead or about hurting themselves.
That’s not just a case of the blues to be shrugged off by taking a break with Facebook or going for a workout.
Kristin Potts, who graduated from Penn State last week with a 4.0 in chemistry and will go on for a master’s, says she’s seen warning signs among fellow classmates.
“I had a couple friends who didn’t come out of their rooms very much,” she said. “I tried my hardest not to be like that, but I definitely saw it.”
At the University of Maryland in College Park, students were sobered by two suicides within two weeks this past semester.
“It was pretty scary,” says Aimee Mayer, a junior studying psychology. She says there’s lots of information and help available for students with mental disorders, but “there’s still a stigma associated with mental health issues and so a lot of people don’t want to go to those services. They feel like they’re less cool or something like that if they go. It’s like a sign of vulnerability.”
Megan Salame, a sophomore studying civil engineering at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., says she’d turn first to her parents if she felt depressed. But she hastened to add, “Depressed — I don’t really like to use that word because it sounds so negative.”
Mental health disorders like depression typically begin relatively early in life, doctors say, and college is a natural time for symptoms to emerge.
The AP-mtvU poll surveyed students at 40 U.S. colleges, exploring the students’ state of mind and the pressures they face, including strains from the tough economy. It found substantial numbers of students with symptoms of depression, many of them failing to receive professional help. Among the poll results:
• Nine percent of students were at risk of moderate to severe depression. That’s in line with a recent medical study that found 7 percent of young people had depression.
• Almost a quarter of those with a parent who had lost a job during the school year showed signs of at least mild depression, more than twice the percentage of those who hadn’t had a parent lose a job. More than twice as many students whose parents had lost a job said they had seriously considered ending their own life, 13 percent to 5 percent.
• Among those who reported serious symptoms of moderate depression or worse, just over a quarter had ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
• More than half of those who reported having seriously considered suicide at some point in the previous year had not received any treatment or counseling.
• Just a third of those with moderate symptoms of depression or worse had received any support or treatment from a counselor or mental health professional since starting college.
• Nearly half of those diagnosed with at least moderate symptoms weren’t familiar with counseling resources on campus.
‘They don’t get help’
Anne Marie Albano, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, said college is a “tender age” developmentally, a period when young adults start taking responsibility for their lives. They’re selecting careers, moving toward financial independence, establishing long-term relationships, perhaps marrying, having children.
The most troubling thing coming out of the AP-mtvU poll and other studies of young adults dealing with depression, she said, is that “they don’t get help” at a time when they’re just venturing off on their own.
“They have to learn to become their own monitors about their mental health and yet they have no training to do that,” she said.