All students can experience feelings or thoughts of sadness from time to time. It is not uncommon for students to feel isolated, unhappy, sad, or helpless throughout the course of the year. In fact, these feelings are quite common among first-year students, many of whom are away from home for the first time. Upper class students, who struggle to complete coursework and make decisions about a career, can also experience these feelings. Often, these thoughts and feelings are situational and do not seriously interfere with students’ ability to partake in their studies. But when these normal experiences become more serious and interfere with learning, this may be a sign that something more severe is happening.
Clinical depression is the term used to describe several depressive illnesses, each of which vary in terms of several factors. Symptoms of clinical depression may include the following changes in students’ mood, thoughts, and behaviors:
- Feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
- A loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Sleep disturbances or appetite and weight changes
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation
If these symptoms of depression are severe and last for a certain period of time, this may signal the presence of a professionally-diagnosed depressive condition like Major Depression. Like many other mental health problems, people who experience depression can get better with appropriate support and treatment.
The 2005 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) found that a considerable number of students experienced symptoms of depression within the last school year:
- 92 percent felt exhausted (not as a result of physical activity)
- 81 percent of students felt very sad
- 64 percent felt things were hopeless
- 46 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function
- 10 percent seriously considered attempting suicide
- 2 percent attempted suicide
In addition, 19 percent of women and 11 percent of men who responded to this survey said they had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. But it appears that not all of these students are getting the services they need. Of the students who reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life, approximately:
- 36 percent were diagnosed in the last school year (37 percent of women and 31 percent of males)
- One-fourth were currently in therapy for depression (29 percent of women and 23 percent of males)
- Slightly more than one-third (37 percent) were currently taking medication for depression (39 percent of women and 31 percent of males)
This data suggest that a serious gap exists between the number of students reporting they are depressed and are actually receiving mental health services.