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Beat the Blues

[ 0 ] April 9, 2012 |

In light of the integrated roles played by post-secondary institutions in the lives of students, it is important to remind ourselves of the importance of understanding mental health among students, and how the well being of students is largely shaped by the relationships they have with their universities. Numerous studies have consistently shown that mental health issues persist to be a recurring problem for many students today. Depression is not always easy to detect, and its effects can range anywhere from mild to severe among students in their capacities to achieve academic success. It is estimated that by 2020, depression will rank next to cardiovascular disease as the primary cause of worldwide disease-related impairment.

Student depression has been noted to be more cognitive in nature than clinical depression. Due to the irregularity of student schedules, various standard signs of depression like irregular sleeping and eating patterns are not the most accurate indicators of depression in students. This is especially true of first year students in the face of adjustments needed to be made in the early transitional phases of university life. Studies have shown that higher degrees of stress among first year students has led to increased levels of depressive symptoms, resulting in high risk behaviours such as eating disorders, alcohol abuse and smoking.

Up to 10% of students in a U.S. national survey reported to have at one point in their undergraduate careers seriously considered attempting suicide. A similar study revealed that students who reported symptoms of depression experienced on average a 0.49 drop in their grade point averages. The prevailing current in the literature surrounding depression among students in North America tends to indicate that substantial amounts of students are screening positive for depressive disorders. According to an evaluation conducted in the U.S. utilizing the Patient Health Questionnaire, an instrument for clinicians to administer diagnostic and screening tools for mental health disorders, 15.6% of undergraduate students screened positive for a depressive disorder. The same study indicated that 44.3% of undergraduate students reported emotional issues, which were having negative influences on their capabilities to effectively perform in school.


What are some causes of student depression?

It is said that stressors most pronounced in the development of chronic and acute depression among post-secondary students originate from academic demands, financial pressures and weak support networks. Nancy Schlossberg, a sociologist who is currently the president of a consulting firm called Transition Works, formulated a theory known as “mattering” for college students. Schlossberg maintains that the self-concept of mattering is defined as “the experience of others depending on us, being interested in us, and being concerned with our fate; while the experience of marginality results in the opposite feelings — the feelings of not fitting in and not being needed or accepted.”

Everyone takes comfort in knowing that there are people located in their social environments who truly care for their well-being. In many cases students end up becoming removed from their pre-existing social networks upon beginning college or university. A qualitative study among freshmen in the U.S., which set out to explore issues pertaining to social experiences in relation to academic performance in colleges, found that some of the leading reasons behind the decisions of students to withdraw from their colleges were centered around difficulties in making friends.


Coping with depression

It should be noted that antidepressant drugs are only appropriate treatments for roughly 50% of people diagnosed with depressive disorders. It has been demonstrated that the degree to which depression can affect the lives of students varies depending on how students utilize coping strategies in dealing with distress. It has been noted that female and male students tend to have different means of coping with stress. One study on gender differences in depressive symptoms found that female students are more inclined to utilize ruminative coping methods when dealing with stress and depression. Ruminative coping is defined as the proclivity to focus on more negative aspects of self and mood. Males, on the other hand, are more likely to focus on problem-focused coping methods.

Studies have found that the development of new coping methods, maintaining strong social networks and possessing spirituality have been beneficial in preventing depression among students. In terms of spirituality, studies have found negative correlations between spirituality and depression among students. Being spiritual, however, does not necessarily mean being religious, but rather it is defined as “the experience of an integration of meaning and purpose in life through connectedness with self, others, art, music, literature, or a power greater than oneself.” So if playing the piano, for example, is something you’re passionate about, don’t skip out on spending time engaging in this past-time, even if it means putting down the textbook for an hour or two every now and then.

How students utilize coping methods for stress is an integral element in the alleviation of depressive symptoms. Emotional-focused coping and problem-focused coping are two methods that, if utilized properly, can be beneficial in handling stress. Emotional-focused coping deals with changing one’s perspective in reaction to stressful situations (such as embracing optimism and hope); and problem-focused coping involves the use of problem solving skills to master stressful situations (such as analysing the benefits and costs of solutions when faced with stressful situations).


Help is always available

Overcoming depression as a student is never easy. And attempting to utilize new coping methods to stave off depression cannot always be done alone. You are always welcome to make use of your learning institution’s health services, which provide quality education and health care to its students. And do remember that these services are in place for a reason; and if you feel that depression is holding you back as a student, don’t be at all shy or hesitant to take advantage of the student health and wellness resources readily available to you on campus.

Some sites you can look at for further information:

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Category: School Life

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