Depression in college students, not an uncommon phenomenon

By on March 20, 2012

By Caitlyn Crenshaw–

Academic expectations, financial burdens and new territory in relationships are everyday events in a college culture with the possibility to cause immense stress and emotional burden contributing to the increased number of depressed college students.  In a survey conducted by the American College Counseling Association, 46 percent of college students said they felt “things were hopeless” at least once in the previous 12 months.

Changes in the college culture over the past 10 years have contributed to the increasing number of college students who are depressed.

The American College Counseling Association also found that 93 percent of therapists are seeing more students coming to college already on medications.

Dr. Juan Pablo Kalawski, a psychologist with the U of L counseling center, said, “College is more stressful than it used to be.”

Casey Dumaine, a psychology major, said of the possible causes of depression in college students, “maybe relational issues, not fitting in, some people find it hard to fit in.”

This pressure to fit in is often viewed as dropped when students pick up their high school diploma; however, the increase in the number of depressed students disputes this view as a contributing factor. “If you don’t have anybody to talk to or confide in, then you will handle college less aptly,” said Dumaine.

A study done by the American College Health Association found that 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed it was difficult to function.”  A student’s difficulty in functioning in their daily life has the potential to carry over into every aspect of their life, such as keeping a scholarship, holding a leadership position or maintaining friendships.

As the number of stressors in the economy and culture increase, students need to find ways to deal with their feelings and cope with any situation.  Dr. Kalwaski said, “It’s not the event that is happening, but how you deal with it.  In counseling, you can work on how to deal with it.”

A significant contributing factor to depression in students is the increasing amount of student debt.  USA Today reports, “total [student] loans outstanding will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in 2011.”

The threat of defaulting on a loan or finding a job to pay back a loan is enough to contribute to depression in students.  Dumaine said, “Money is a big issue, and if you’re paying for classes out of pocket or you are taking out financial aid, you will have to inevitably pay it back and that’s a big stress factor.”

Some students believe that they can handle their depression independently and others fail to recognize that their feelings of despondency are depression.

“If you do nothing, most likely it is not going to go away,” said Dr. Kalawski.

The U of L counseling center offers two main services, those being, “counseling and testing for ADHD and for learning disabilities,” said Dr. Kalawski.  The counseling services are free to registered U of L students.

While the numbers in terms of depressed students rise, Dr. Kalawski said, “The hardest part is to come [to the counseling center].”  The initial recognition of a student’s feelings being depression and realizing that they cannot overcome it alone are typically the most difficult.

Many students initially confide in a friend about feelings of depression.  If a friend were to admit to feeling depressed, Dumaine said try to “see what the underlying cause could be and refer them to the counseling center.”

With many contributing factors, students may feel at a loss for how to overcome their feelings.  Dr. Kalawski said, “In the end, whatever the cause is, you can get help and that is the main message.”

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Photo: James El-Mallakh/The Louisville Cardinal

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