Why More Moderate to Severe Depression in College Students?

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Why is moderate to severe depression incidence up 7% from just 10 years ago?

Supporting what mental health professionals have said for years, research presented at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association shows that, more that just 10 years ago, severe mental illness is more common among college students, with more students heading off to school with pre-existing conditions.

"In the last 10 years, a shift in the needs of students seeking counseling services is becoming apparent," said study author John Guthman, PhD, director of student counseling services, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY. "University and college counseling services around the country are reporting that the needs of students seeking services are escalating toward more severe psychological problems. While the condition of students seeking counseling doesn't necessarily reflect the experience of the average college student, our findings may suggest that students with severe emotional stress are getting better education, outreach and support during childhood that makes them more likely to attend college than in the past."

After analyzing the records of 3,256 students who utilized college counseling between September 1997 and August 2009 at a mid-sized private university, the research team found that 93% of students coming into the clinic were diagnosed with one mental disorder (mostly mood and anxiety disorders), compared with 96% in 2009.

"Overall, the average quality of depression and anxiety experienced by students in counseling has remained constant and relatively mild during the last decade," Guthman said. "However, the percentage of students with moderate to severe depression has gone up from 34 to 41 percent. These outliers often require significantly more resources and may contribute greatly to the misperception that the average student is in distress."

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