Depression the Leading Cause of College Dropout

An estimated 40% of students who begin college don’t graduate from their initial school within six years. While some take longer or transfer to a different institution, a great deal of these students drop out altogether. Seeking to learn the causes behind college dropout, Michigan State University analyzed surveys of over 1,000 college freshmen from ten different schools. Students were asked whether they’d recently experienced twenty different “critical events” (ranging from poor grades and money troubles to job recruitment and inheriting money) and were asked whether they planned to withdraw. Of the twenty critical events, depression was the factor most frequently linked with academic withdrawal. Other leading experiences included roommate conflicts, unexpected bad grades, recruitment to a job or different school, and increased financial burden (either losing financial aid or experiencing a drastic hike in tuition or living costs).

Depression has been on the rise in college campuses for the past several years, so it should come as little surprise that it’s influencing students’ decision to drop out of school. University counseling resources are being tapped by an increasing number of undergraduates, many of whom site financial strains on their family as a primary cause of personal angst, pressure and even guilt. The slow economy also serves as a metaphorical cloud over these students’ future plans, who fear meager job prospects upon graduation.

By shedding further light on the problem of college student depression, this Michigan State University may further inspire institutions to provide on-campus counseling and mental health outreach to their students. However, it’s also of note to those in the business sector.  “We see a lot of similarities in how employees and students decide to quit,” said MSU project research Jessica Keeney says. The strategies schools use to support their students’ mental health may also be applicable for employers seeking to maintain a consistent and healthy workforce.

© Copyright 2011 by Barbara Grace Babson,LCSW, therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • AmyH

    February 23rd, 2011 at 5:44 AM

    Having worked with college students on a good sized campus several years ago I would strongly believe that this is true. So many of them are afraid of the job market, afraid of not meeting parental expectations, and experimenting with so many different ways of life that thinks can very quickly get out of control. For many of them this would quickly turn into depression and would have a huge impact in a negative way on academic performance and their social lives. But it was still so taboo to even admit that they had a problem. Most of them would try to cover that depression with more drinking or other forms of bad behavior. That is something that all of us should be aware of and work toward preventing.

  • paula

    February 23rd, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    students do undergo depression but them dropping out of college can have a major effect on their entire lives.we are talking about depression leading to a complete different lifestyle here and this can in turn bring in depression in later life and will lead to a low standard of living which will again affect the next generation.it may sound a little too cautious but then youngsters are a very important national asset and we really need to pull up our socks and do something to address these kind of issues affecting youngsters.

  • Sarah Says

    February 23rd, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    I think that it’s hard to talk about depression and loneliness, especially as a freshman. Everyone seems to have it all together, but underneath the surface the things we’re dealing with are so much the same. It’s okay to ask for help and talk about feelings.

  • Ian

    March 2nd, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    I’m 25 yr old right now. I went to college right after high school at the age of 18 and enrolled in IT program which was my passion since I was young but was put on academic probation after second semester due to continuous failure in 4/6 courses in each semester.

    After a semester off I decided to change major to get an easy way out. It got worse this time. I enrolled in commerce at different school closer to my house since I felt homesick the first time.

    As commerce was not my thing, this time it was brutal. I kept failing 70% of my courses and it was fifth semester and I was still in 3rd semester courses and at the age of 23 when all my peers and students my age were graduating and I was told by program coordinator that I won’t be allowed to go abck to classes until I get some conselling.

    I never went for conselling and ednded up dropping out. This led to more depression and now at the age of 25 I’m workign low age retail job and al my friends from high school and relatives have degrees and professional jobs.

    In conclusion, sometimes students end up dropping out due to bad suggestions by guidance people at schools.

  • Jacob Jackson

    April 10th, 2011 at 4:36 PM

    Depression is a terrible thing that can lead to a lot of problems. If a depressed student just drops out of school and doesn’t seek the right counseling, it can effect them for the rest of their lives.

  • mike

    October 2nd, 2011 at 2:31 AM

    I myself went through this. Family crisis and financial strain made me leave two schools. Even trying to put your head in the books would not help. The second school I went to, I was helped by a two great people when my my sibling attempted. I tried to fight it with their help and did but then couldnt afford college. The strain was unbearable and you feel like the’res nothing to do but stay in a dark corner. College is harder now than ever. I hear more and more suicides, dropouts and other things that are hard to fathom.

  • Raymond Arias

    March 20th, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    I have been to several colleges and have been forced to drop out of almost all of them because the competitiveness of the coursework would bring on enough stress to trigger or greatly worsen my depression. In fact, in my last school, University of Illinois, a number of factors combined together to make me repeatedly suicidal, and in fact at one point I had planned in great detail how I was going to kill myself. In particular, though certain people and sub-institutions in the U of I (such as the Counseling Center and the Department of Rehabilitation Services) attempted to help me, there were certain key aspects, people of power, and other subinstutions in the University actively, yet not fully intentionally, working against me and my mental well-being. These are the deeply competitive nature of the school in general and the College of Engineering in particular, the faculty and staff who were reluctant in the highest degree to actually help me, except for the tiny amount of token assistance they gave me possibly both to satisfy their limited consciences and give themselve probable ammunition to use against me in the remote case I would sue the University, and, most agrediously, the psichiatrists in the McKinley Health Center on the University campus. There was even one occassion that my antidepessant medication ran out due to me missing or arriving extremely late to my appointments to the psychiatrist, helping to trigger a deeply suicidal bout of depression, however, when I finally got in to see her, instead of helping me by prescibing me more of the meds, she said I had to wait until she had time to discuss my issues with some committee. Had I not taken steps to get the meds another way, I highly doubt that I would be here to write this today. Basically, until this school makes major changes within itself, if you happen to suffer from depression and have been the least bit suicidal because of it, STAY THE HECK AWAY FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS!!!

  • Guest

    May 16th, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    Depression is a common mental health disease worldwide whether it is caused by financial, academic, stressful relationships, traumatic events, natural disasters, unemployment, coming home from fighting wars, stressful jobs, and so forth. The World Health Organization says it is one of major disease around the world. Unfortunately, there are long ways to go despite the research and knowledge because people don’t want others to view them as mental or see themselves that way. There are also a lot of people who suffer in silence because they don’t have the resources or money to get help or do not know what the symptoms are therefore suffer. The stigma of being mental is something that many people fear therefore the disease is put under the rug. It’s a worldwide problem. Just think about those that are suffering with or without help from depression from the Japan quakes or from Sept. 11 attacks. If you have the disease do seek help and also do services or positive things to bring you out of the problem like volunteering at animal shelters, worship places, reading books to children, planting gardens, going for walks, praying to God, talking to people, writing in a journal or anything. Whatever you do do not be ashamed and seek help. There are so many people who overcame depression or even been cured from it. It’s all about lifestyle changes making a better person of yourself and removing yourself from stressful situation or overcoming them. Keep moving forward and do not be afraid of calling 9-11 or visiting the doctor if you feel sick. Whatever you do, DO NOT Harm Yourself or Others.

  • Brian H

    March 26th, 2016 at 5:28 AM

    Presently, I am attending college online. I began college because I was concerned about future options. Being a Caucasian male that is almost 50 years old, I found that it was getting more and more difficult to get a job; thus, I decided to take a different route. I began college in February of 2015, and in August I finally landed a full time job for the first time in ten years. I did not use a resume or a cover letter this time; I just walked in a plant and asked if they were hiring, and they referred me to a hiring service. The rest is history as I am now a full time employee.
    This did not change my motivation for schooling immediately, but what did alter my path, and where the depression began, is when I entered Algebra. I discovered at this time I have a numbers dyslexia, and as if that was not bad enough, I cannot retain what I learn, and especially if I do not understand it. Usually writing it out helps, but how can one write out what they do not understand? In any case, I dropped that class to save my 4.0 GPA.; this was the second class of my sophomore year. Consequently, all I keep thinking about is, what if I continue and make it to my senior year, but Algebra keeps me from graduating? I would have accumulated all this extra debt for nothing.
    As of right now I am still hovering at a 3.97 GPA, but I have completely lost my drive and motivation; I have been in and out of depression on a daily basis as I think about the debt I have accumulated and the future implications. At this point, I do not care if I graduate or not…I am not going to, as I am going to withdraw as soon as I finish my final paper this weekend,
    Besides the Algebra and short-term memory problems, I also discovered that I have absolutely no time for my kids. I work eight hours, have to turn down overtime to do homework which hurts my credibility at work, then, when my kids need the time and attention; I do not have the time to give them. This has added to my depression because I know how quickly time passes, and that is the one commodity we do not get back. That said, since I made my decision to drop college, a great burden has lifted off of me, as I will be able to fully commit to work and my family without the interference of homework and not graduating because of algebra. Time is short, and for me it is getting shorter, I do not have time to be depressed or worried, not to mention the damage depression does to my health.
    In conclusion, it seems to me, and I may be wrong, but I think the decisions that begin from fear and worry, also end with fear and worry. If one is going to go to college, do not begin this journey with fear of the future as your motivator, Do it because you got a scholarship, or because you need it for your field of choice, but whatever you do, do not let fear be the beginning, because it may very well be your ending as well.

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