New York: Severe depression is more common
in American college students, who are also increasingly
becoming impulsive and trying to injure themselves today than
in the past decade, a new study has found.
But other problems, such as having thoughts of suicide,
are less common among today`s students, according to the study
which was conducted at a private university campus in the US.
"We all feel like things are getting worse. The data says
yes and no," said lead researcher John Guthman, director of
counselling services at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New
College life may not be the reason for the rise in severe
depression, but rather more students are arriving on campus
with pre-existing mental health issues, said the researchers
who presented the study at the 118th Annual Convention of the
American Psychological Association in San Diego on Thursday.
"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," Guthman told LiveScience.
"Years ago they might not have been able to function in
other areas of their life if their depression was
The study improves upon previous work in that it didn`t
just rely on students` own reports of mental health problems,
but also used evaluations from university counsellors.
For their research, Guthman and his colleagues looked at
the counselling records of 3,256 students at the private
university over a 12-year period, between September 1997 and
Participants were examined for mental disorders, their
thoughts of suicide and injuring themselves and thoughts of
injuring others. They also took part in interviews and
completed two tests to assess their depression and anxiety
It was found that between 1998 and 2009, the number of
students coming into counselling who were diagnosed with at
least one mental disorder increased 3 per cent, from 93 to 96
per cent. The percentage diagnosed with moderate to severe
depression increased from 34 per cent to 41 per cent, Guthman
The number of students who said they attempted to injure
themselves also increased for 4 per cent to 8 per cent over
that time period, while the number of those diagnosed with
more than one mental disorder rose from 3 per cent to over 40
In contrast to depression, cases of severe anxiety showed
a drop, especially over the last three years of the study.
Suicidal thoughts among students also declined by 15 per cent,
the researchers found.
Guthman said the decrease might be the result of
improvements in suicide prevention education and outreach as
well as more awareness of the types of assistance available.
"It is important to understand which areas are changing
in terms of mental health.
"We need to be sensitive to the data and plan our
programs and interventions to address the changes and
challenges in college student mental health."