Depression in College and Its Causes

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Students all around the world have told their stories of how their college years were either great and party filled, or class and homework filled. One thing the students all seemed to have in common was that depression and anxiety was always something hanging over their shoulders. Student have spoken on how if they weren’t stressing about that night’s homework they were stressing about their next test or exam and even after that they were worried about large projects and all the way down to their final exams. College has always been a large pressure in almost every part of the world. Some places greater than others. Even with this fairy tale outlook the students are still struggling with their mental health. There isn’t just one reason for such an issue, many factors come into play. During college years this is when a student’s mental health needs to be stable and healthy. Having a healthy mental health helps you within your studies. Students are the future to careers, so their mental health should be just as important as in obtaining a degree.

One of the issues brought to light was a person’s ethnicity. By the time college rolls around it would seem to maybe not be such an issue yet that isn’t the case. College gives students a free range of finding out who they are and who they want to be. It also lets a person show their real selves due to wanting to fit in more likely in high school. Usually when coming to a large college or university there is almost always a chance the diversity is quite large. That is what makes universities so inviting, know that there is more than one type of person and ethnics all around. A study was done to see if ethnics played a part into depressive thinking due to discrimination (American Psychological Association, 2014). The study was done on both male and females from the ages of 18 to 30 years of age. This would show if the discrimination played a part in the persons mental health and if it was greater for one specific factor or was it a grouped outcome. The study also put into factor that the students were past the stage of questioning their identity or beyond the formative stages of ethnic identity formation (French, Seidman, Allen, & Aber, 2006). The study grouped together 30 colleges from across the United States and gathered 2,315 college students being that 63% were Latino, 37% Black with a gender of 76% female. They asked the students to note on their information sheet which ethnic group they felt they belong to or identified with. The students who felt they didn’t belong to the Latino or black group were excluded from the study. The age that seemed to be the median was 20 years of age and 80% of the students showed that they were from the United States, born and raised. The data was then collected from September of 2008 to October of 2009 and out of all the students only 73% completed they survey and questionnaire.

While the questionnaire didn’t take too long the information gathered showed almost exactly what the study expected. The depressive symptoms were then measured by using a 20-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977). The students were asked to answer questions that went along with major symptoms that went with major depression and if they felt they agreed with the information asked and shown. More information was gathered individually from each participant and with the information they couldn’t gather from the students who didn’t answer or finish their questionnaire they had to rule out and modify their hypothesis. The results showed that on average the students who identified as black showed that they had more ethnic discrimination than the Latino group while the females in the Latino group had a higher percentage of discrimination than the males of their group. The Black students received more discrimination due to their ethnic while the Latinos received hate due to if they were born in the United States or not. With the results It showed that both groups had a high percentage of having some sort of depressive mental state or depression was on the rise due to how they felt about the situation. The students also mentioned that they had always had discrimination but that reaching college it seemed to become large due to the diversity along with having problems within school and classes.

Depression among the youth has seemed to double since the 21st century (Kisch, Leino, & Silverman, 2005) being that it is mainly focused around college students. More reasons for this issue found among college students was related to substance abuse, alcoholism, feeling disconnected from your campus and fellow peers. This can lead to self-injury, eating disorders or more substance abuse. Sometimes even leading to suicide (Haw, Hawton, Casey, Bale, & Shepard, 2005; Ross et al., 2009). Information gathered from Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (2010) informed that self-injury also known as SIB, became much higher due to the results of academic failure or that grades were not where a student or a student’s family felt they should be. The study followed students 24 and under and how well they were doing in school along with if they had any sort of substance abuse and how often they drank on a day-to-day basis if any. When first looking into SIB they found that this was at a much higher rate than any of the other behaviors associated with depression.

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When questioning their participants, they found that 7% showed that they had SIB within the past month while 17% to 38% reported self-injury within their lifetime and mostly being towards end of high school year and all throughout college years (Gratz, Conrad, & Roemer, 2002; Whitlock, Eckenrode, & Silverman, 2006). Being that most of the students reporting this behavior was on campus they looked for factors of age, gender, ethnic and if they were undergraduate students or graduates. When having a mix of all factors they found that females were more willing to act on SIB and having eating disorders while males lead more to substance abuse and alcoholism. While also indicating that these behaviors declined with age and most students were undergraduates that acted on these behaviors (Jacobson & Gould, 2007; American College Health Association, 2007).

Another major issue is sleep. Sleep is a very important factor when it comes to mental stability. Sleep all around is what goes along with helping the brain work properly from how the brain ‘digests’ information obtained and how the brain needs to function on a day-to-day basis. Most students recorded and average 3-9 hours of sleep per night. While some claimed to pull many all-nighters throughout the week trying to do homework and study for exams (American Psychological Association. 2009). While students who have medically been informed that they do indeed have depression reported that they had even more issue with sleep and having large amounts of fatigue through the day and being sleepy through their classes yet unable to sleep throughout the night (‘Sleep in Psychiatric Disorders’, Benca, 1996).

The link between sleep issues and disorders vs depression also question, could the two factors play into suicides. Since being that both are mental health problems and one could lead to another if not both could make you question how far the issues could lead being that suicide rates are very high with college students as well. How this study was conducted was the REM state of the might was recorded and tracked to see how the brain functions or how high vs low the activity was. When doing this control on depressed students and patients they recorded that the depressed participants had an intense and rapid REM activity and experience little to no good amount of sleep if any (Rush et al., 1986).

So, when it comes down to how important it is to focus on students and their mental health as well as them making sure that their state of well-being is take care of it goes to show just how important mental health really is. Students should focus on both school and they, schools as well need to make sure they have all options open for their students and that all resources are easy access without any judgement.


  1. American College Health Association. (2007). American College Health Association National College Health Assessment Spring 2006 Reference Group Data Report (abridged). Journal of American College Health, 55, 195–206.
  2. French, S. E., Seidman, E., Allen, L., & Aber, L. J. (2006). The development of ethnic identity during adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 42, 1–10. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.1.1
  3. Gratz, K. L., Conrad, S. D., & Roemer, L. (2002). Risk factors for deliberate self-harm among college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72, 128–140.
  4. Haw, C., Hawton, K., Casey, D., Bale, E., & Shepherd, A. (2005). Alcohol dependence, excessive drinking and deliberate self-harm. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40, 964–967.
  5. Kisch, J., Leino, E. V., & Silverman, M. M. (2005). Aspects of suicidal behavior, depression, and treatment in college students: Results from the spring 2000 National College Health Assessment Survey. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 35, 3–13. doi:10.1521/suli.
  6. Radloff, L. (1977). The CES-D Scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. doi:10.1177/01466216770010030
  7. Rush, A. J., Erman, M. K., Giles, D. E., Schlesser, M. A., Carpenter, G., Vasavada, N., & Roffwarg, H. P. (1986). Polysomnographic findings in recently drug-free and clinically remitted depressed patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 43, 878–884.
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