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Depression among University Students

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Depression is a mental illness that affects 11.3% of adults in Canada (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2016). Although seemingly a low percentage, depression affects people of all ages at different parts of their life. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 50% of the Canadian population will have, or have had, a mental illness by age 40 (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2016). It is with no question that depression affects people in Canada through aspects of their daily lives. Symptoms of depression include: guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness; loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities; problems sleeping; fatigue; thoughts of death; and difficulty concentrating and making decisions (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2016). The symptoms of depression differ between people, and vary throughout one’s life. Statistics Canada found that in 2018, 11.2% of people aged 18-34 met criteria for a mood disorder - a 2.5% increase from the previous year (Statistics Canada, 2018). Although it is clear that depression affects Canadians of varying age groups, it seems that rates of depression increase as one ages, peaking at the age cohort of 18-34 years. Canadians in this age group are within the transition of starting or continuing education in university, as reported by Statistics Canada, which found that the median age for students in university was 22.8 years in 2007 (Statistics Canada, 2007).

Since 2015, rates of mood disorder in Canada have been steadily increasing (Statistics Canada, 2018) in ages over 12. In high school, over 30% of Canadians are mildly to clinically depressed (Ehrenberg, Cox, & Koopman, 1990). This percentage rises by at least 2% once students reach university when comparing the results of various studies. It is found that the average rate of depressive symptoms in university students is around 33% (Alsubaie, Stain, Webster, & Wadman, 2019). The Spring 2016 National College Health Assessment found that nearly 90% of students surveyed reported feeling overwhelmed with their workload. Within the same study, it was discovered that 60% of students felt hopeless, and 13% seriously considered suicide (Linden, & Jurdi-Hage, 2017). Linden and Jurdi-Hage’s study identified that not only are moderate depressive symptoms prevalent, but so are severe symptoms, such as suicidal ideations. It is clear that university causes high stress in students, which may lead to increased depressive symptoms.

Self-reported depressive symptoms and experiences are common among university students (Barker, Howard, Villemaire-Krajden, & Galambos, 2018). As years go by, the amount of students being diagnosed with mental illness is steadily increasing (Alsubaie, Stain, Webster, & Wadman, 2019). There are many theories that argue the increase, many of which blame social media, and rising socioeconomic demands. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence examined the change in depressive symptoms of university students from September to April, and found that symptoms rose from September, peaked in December, and fell across the second semester. This indicates that students’ mood decreases as stress increases throughout the scholarly year. University has countless demands, and students require planning and coping mechanisms in order to be successful in their studies. Mental disengagement from school work is found to have a profound influence on depression outcomes in students (Linden & Jurdi-Hage, 2017). This suggests the idea that motivation is important in finishing school work, and therefore decreasing levels of depression among students.

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There are many determinants of depression among students. Although they may vary between people and populations, studies have found that there are specific causes for increased depressive symptoms. Students living at home are found to have better mental health than those living on or off-campus (Othman, Ahmad, El Morr, & Ritvo, 2019). This is due to increased levels of support and feelings of security. Again, this varies depending on the social and emotional aspects of one’s home. University students have noted that family expectations, conflict, judgement, unemployment, social exclusion, and school stressors as having a negative impact on their overall wellbeing (Othman, et al., 2019). Despite this, there is a lack of students seeking help while struggling in university. People with mental illness are often scared to seek help or treatment because of fear of judgement. The fear of receiving treatment is common for any illness, but with the stigma surrounding mental illness in today’s society, it is hard for people to find comfort in seeking help. Studies have found that students avoid seeking treatment because they are worried about self-discovery of mental illness, fear of reliving scarring experiences, fear of needing therapy or medication, and the worry that seeking treatment would result in less career or educational opportunities (Othman et al., 2019).

The worry for self-actualization prevents people suffering from mental illness from achieving health promotion and wellbeing. Students beginning or continuing education in university must focus on improving their environment and personal skills in order to help themselves and their mental health. According to the Canadian Fundamentals of Nursing (Potter, Perry, Stockert, Hall, 2019) some important determinants of health include social support networks, individual health practices, and coping mechanisms. Through this information, it is reasonable to conclude that in order for students to maintain a healthy lifestyle and practice health promotion, they must surround and immerse themselves in a supportive environment. This could mean finding support groups provided by the university, working in study groups to improve social and academic skills, or seeking treatment from a psychiatrist. Students may also help improve their mental health by discovering and using healthy coping mechanisms throughout the school year. Scheduling one’s time, communicating with others about any confusion, and taking time for one’s self to relax or socialize are ways students may improve this aspect of health promotion.

Depression is a prevalent part of the Canadian society, and affects the population in many ways. Whether through work, socialization, or school, it makes going about one’s daily life harder than usual. University students are often faced with stress, high expectations, demanding workloads, and no time for socialization. As proved by Condren et. al, it is important to maintain optimism, as it increases one’s emotional support, which is proven to decrease symptoms of depression (Condren & Greenglass, 2011). Students in university must remember to maintain positivity, and be open to talking about their struggles in order to succeed in both their academic and health promotion endeavors.


  1. Alsubaie, M. M., Stain, H. J., Webster, L. A. D., & Wadman, R. (2019). The Role of Sources of Social Support on Depression and Quality of Life for University Students. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 24(4), 484–496. doi: 10.1080/02673843.2019.1568887.
  2. Barker, E., Howard, A., Villemaire-Krajden, R., & Galambos, N. (2018). Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47(6), 1252–1266. doi: 10.1007/s10964-018-0822-9.
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  8. Othman, N., Ahmad, F., El Morr, C., & Ritvo, P. (2019). Perceived Impact of Contextual Determinants on Depression, Anxiety and Stress: A Survey with University Students. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 13(1), 1–9. doi: 10.1186/s13033-019-0275-x.
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Depression among University Students. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“Depression among University Students.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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