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Depression and College Students

A lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and not enough exercise are a recipe for depression among college students. The stress that comes with academia — including financial worries, pressure to get a good job after school, and failed relationships — is enough to force some students to leave college or worse.

The risks and consequences of depression among college students

Many factors of college life contribute to risk factors of depression. Many students are unprepared for university life. Today’s students face high debt. They also have fewer job prospects after graduation than previous generations. These added concerns can lead to depressive episodes in college students.

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Depressed students are at a greater risk of developing problems such as substance abuse. Depressed college students are more likely to binge drink, smoke marijuana, and participate in risky sexual behaviors to cope with emotional pain than are their nondepressed peers.

The problem with young love

Often, a breakup will precipitate a bout of depressive feelings. Risks of depression related to a breakup include intrusive thoughts, difficulty controlling those thoughts, and trouble sleeping. As many as 43 percent of students experience insomnia in the months following a breakup. Students that are most likely to become distressed after a breakup experienced neglect or abuse during childhood, had an insecure attachment style, felt more betrayed, and were more unprepared for the breakup.

Fortunately, the best therapy for depression precipitated by a breakup is time. Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and, especially, complicated grief therapy also have high success rates for helping to heal a broken heart.

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Suicide and college students

In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15–34 years. Among young adults aged 18–25 years, 8.3 percent have had serious thoughts of suicide.

Depression is the biggest risk factor for suicidal youth. Other risk factors include:

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  • substance abuse
  • a family history of depression and mental illness
  • a prior suicide attempt
  • stressful life events
  • access to guns
  • exposure to other students who have died as a result of suicide
  • self-harming behaviors such as burning or cutting

Diagnosing and treating depression in college students

College is a stressful environment for most young people, therefore it’s especially important for parents, friends, faculty, and counselors to get involved if they suspect a student is suffering from depression.

Students themselves are often reluctant to seek help due to social stigmas related to depression. A mental health evaluation that encompasses a student’s developmental and family history, school performance, and any self-injurious behaviors should be performed to evaluate at-risk students before a treatment plan is made.

The best treatments for college-aged students with depression are usually a combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. Depressed students are also more likely to benefit from exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough rest than many other groups.

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