Print this page

Depression on College Campuses Conference

Depression among college students is an urgent, yet neglected public health problem. On college campuses today, the problems associated with depression are increasing at an alarming rate. Fortunately, awareness has also increased. As a result, college counseling centers are seeing more students with depressive symptoms. According to a University of Pittsburgh study, 85% of college counseling centers surveyed reported an increase in the number of students coming in with severe psychological problems including depression. At Michigan, over 20% of the students seen at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) have depressive illnesses. According to Todd Sevig, Ph.D., Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, “Depression has been, is and will likely continue to be the most frequent issue here.”

Why So Much Depression?

imageCollege is sometimes called “the age of depression.” Why? Research shows that the peak years for the onset of symptoms begins in the early teens and increases through the mid-20s. Of the 19 million Americans who experience depression each year, many develop their first symptoms just before or during college. Many students arrive at college already diagnosed with the illness— 10% according to a 2000 study from the American College Health Association. However, in most cases, a student’s depressive illness has not yet been diagnosed. So students are often puzzled and frightened by new symptoms.

One of the primary triggers for depression in this age group is stress. While some degree of stress is normal in times of change and transition, for some students, it can become overwhelming and trigger a depressive episode. This is complicated by the fact that students are often feeling social and academic pressure at a time when the support systems they enjoyed at home are no longer as accessible. Furthermore, daily routines for sleeping, eating, exercise and alcohol-use are drastically changed in college. Finally, many students often have financial worries. And all college students are expected to make important and difficult decisions about their futures after graduation. Collectively, these factors can contribute to the development of depression.

Consequences of Depression

Untreated depression has many consequences for students. It often results in poor academic performance, alcohol and drug abuse, problems with relationships, and greater risk for other health problems. Depression also increases a person’s likelihood of using and abusing drugs and alcohol. This only serves to exacerbate symptoms. Unfortunately, alcohol is readily available to college students, and plays an all too important role in the campus social scene.

Depression is often a chronic, episodic illness. A person who suffers from depression usually experiences repeated bouts. The longer depression goes untreated, the more severe and frequent these episodes become.

And most importantly, depression is the number one risk factor for suicide. According to the National Mental Health Association, suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent these consequences. We know from research that early detection and treatment offer a greater chance for recovery. The earlier the treatment, the less likely depression will become chronic.

College campuses are ideal settings for promoting a preventive approach to depression. Although stigma continues to act as a barrier to seeking and continuing treatment, today’s college students are better informed than past generations about depression, and they are generally much more open to talking about it with others. In addition, health education materials are readily available, and treatment can be free or much more affordable.

The Impact of Stigma on Campus

For students with depressive illnesses, there is often a fear that if their illness is discovered or disclosed to others, they will suffer certain consequences. For example, they may fear that their professors will believe them incapable, or feel that they are not deserving of accommodations. They may also have fears that they will lose relationships with friends or family members. This fear of exposure may be compounded for students of different racial or ethnic groups. One particularly devastating consequence of stigma is that students will delay treatment in order to avoid obtaining the label “mentally ill.” Instead, they might use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Far from improving the situation, alcohol and other drugs can exacerbate depression and bipolar disorder and make them more difficult to treat. The impact of stigma will be discussed in depth at this year’s Depression on College Campuses conference.

What are we doing about it?

Current initiatives on the University of Michigan campus

U-M Hosts Annual Conference on College Age Depression

For the past eleven years, the U-M Depression Center has hosted a national conference on the topic of depression on college campuses. The key message of the conference is that if we are to make a real difference in addressing depression in our communities, we must emphasize earlier detection and intervention. Only this approach will prevent the progression, chronicity, recurrence, and burden of depression. Please click on the following links to view information and materials regarding the conference.

2013 - Moving Toward Healthy Self-Care

2012 - Prevention | Resilience | Positive Mental Health

2011 - Early Detection and Intervention

2010 - Many Faces | A New Look

2009 - Changing Perspectives

2008 - Creating Healthy Communities

2007 - New Challenges, New Approaches

2006 - The University's Role in Responding to Crisis, Disaster, and Loss

2005 - Fighting Stigma with Knowledge and Understanding

2004 - Connections to Stress, Sleep, and Alcohol

2003 - Best Practices and Innovative Strategies


Depression Video

The View From HereIn October 2002, University of Michigan students, faculty and staff were invited to attend the premiere of The View from Here, a documentary produced with support from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Created to promote awareness about depression on the college campus, the video features students from differing identity groups, ages, and degree programs telling of their experiences with the disease. It also features faculty and staff who have worked with depressed students, and faculty and staff who have suffered from depression themselves. A resource guide containing detailed information about support and treatment services available at the University and in Ann Arbor accompanies the video.

To view the video, please click on the graphic above or click here.