Depressed College Students Failing to Seek Help

In the eyes of many people, the days spent in college are decidedly iconic; from carefree parties and trips to enlightening conversations and the opening up of new doors of experience and knowledge, the college years are often considered some of the best that modern life has to offer. Yet for a growing number of American college students, the period is marked with extreme stress, depression, and emotional difficulty. While some aspects of college life may contribute to negative emotions and experiences, recent accelerations of competition within schools and the extremely difficult job market, along with general financial woes, may be increasing the number of students whose occasional upsets are becoming fully-fledged and debilitating issues.

A poll conducted by The Associated Press, in collaboration with MTV, was recently administered to students at 40 U.S. colleges, asking participants to describe their thoughts and feelings on a range of topics and to answer basic batteries of questions regarding their mental and emotional well-being. The results are significant; 42% of participants reported feeling depressed, hopeless, or “down” several times within the two weeks prior to responding, and 13% were shown to be at risk for some form of clinical depression. An alarming 11% of students reported having thoughts about self-harming or the idea that they’d be “better off dead.”

Though the prevalence of depression and related symptoms among college students is cause for concern, the apparent stigmas and disinterest associated with seeking professional help is truly discouraging. The majority of respondents reported that the weren’t actively engaged in any sort of therapy, nor had they any intention of talking with a mental health professional about their problems. As the economic downturn continues and young people face increasing pressure to perform, psychotherapy and the student mind will have to work harder to meet and achieve positive results.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • Collin

    May 28th, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    There is still such a stigma attached to admitting when we need help that it no wonder that students this age are not getting the treatment that they need when they are depressed. Oftentimes too they may not even know where to turn to get help even though most college campuses these days are set up with great counseling facilities to give their students the resources that they need to get better. Even more reason that we have to keep talking up the issue of how important mental health is for the community and how to keep everyone involved and all on the same side.

  • Anna

    May 29th, 2009 at 5:43 AM

    I remember being innundated with counseling services programs when I was in college so I cannot imagine how college students might feel like they do not have access to these services. I am sure things are different at different schools but the college I graduated from made every effort to make students aware of the programs and services that they had to offer and made it very comfortable to seek those out. I know that sometimes one of the most frustrating problems though is that the person who actually needs treatment is the last one to see that and therefore will be in no big hurry to go to others for that. That is when friends and family definitely have to step in and get them the appropriate help.

  • Fred

    May 30th, 2009 at 8:25 PM

    I am surprised too!! I thought most colleges make meeting your student counsellor a priority. With most counsellors on campus, I find this rather disconcerting. I think if a student is wallowing in depression, his/her roomies or fellow students should tell the concerned counsellor and professors about it. It does make a difference to go to counselling.

  • Lauren

    May 30th, 2009 at 9:03 PM

    Very true. My friend was a major sad story. Getting her to understand that being depressed is not normal took quite an effort. Getting her into therapy was definitely a feather in all our caps and should go down as one credit for our course.

  • Troy

    May 31st, 2009 at 8:04 PM

    I was a student counsellor. It’s very difficult to notice things about young adults as feelings can be marked cleverly by young adults. I still remember an incident when a guy I thought to be a very upbeat student, attempted suicide because he had a problem with his physics professor who failed him for his research paper. It was an issue which could have been sorted out with the board, college counsellors, student body etc. Instead he chose to not talk about it but quietly retreat to his room and attempt suicide. Only his classmates knew of the huge divide going on between him and this professor. People should choose to talk about their problems. It’s very difficult to help when a person can be very level headed about taking his/her own life.

  • Robyn

    June 1st, 2009 at 5:41 AM

    College students are a very tricky population to deal with. They want to be independent yet they still need some hand holding from time to time.

  • Angela

    June 2nd, 2009 at 3:59 AM

    If they are failing to seek these services then it is their own fault because there are no other places on earth that you can find such quality services at really no charge in such large quantities. Maybe some of them just need to get their heads out of the clouds and be grateful for what is right there in front of them to take advantage of.

  • Sally

    June 3rd, 2009 at 2:53 AM

    Maybe most of these students don’t feel comfortable about talking about their problems with a college professional.. Maybe it will get back to other teachers, maybe their friends will find out, etc.. But as counsellors, I do believe they need to try and notice these things to at least reach out and talk to the student without the student feel as if they are inadequate.

  • Steve

    June 3rd, 2009 at 3:50 AM

    Hey Angela in some ways I agree with you. There are so many services and resources available to kids of all ages that it is remarkable that so many of them seem to intentionally overlook them. But what about the kids who do not even recognize that they have a problem? In those case it is certainly the responsibility of others to help get them where they need to be, even if that just means making some gentle suggestions about the help that is available to them or maybe making an appointment for them to see a counselor. The weight of the problem does not need to fall entirely on the head of the student going through a hard time. That is when it is time for professors and friends to also step in and take a good hard look at the things that are going on. Many of us are going to be in a much better frame of mind to help with these issues than perhaps the depressed or anxious student will be. None of us can shirk that kind of responsibility and say something like there are services avaiable and that the student should just seek it out. I would assume that in many cases a large number of them have not even figured out yet that they need outside help and even if they did they might not be in the right place emotionally to seek that out.

  • Jane F

    June 7th, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    My kid is in college and would die if he thought anyone thought he needed counseling. I do not know if it is his age or if it is a guy thing.

  • Eliza

    June 10th, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    Hey everybody I know that it is one’s first reaction to point the finger at the college kids and saying that they are not really taking advantage of everything that is available to them. But what about those who really are in such a state of despair that they cannot see how bad things really are. Who is looking out for them? We have to do a better job at getting others comfortable with stepping in when we see a problem. I know that there will be times when those in need will feel that they are being intruded upon and that you are being nosy but when it comes to potentially saving someone’s life then we really have no other choice!

  • Julie

    June 12th, 2009 at 4:08 AM

    I’m sure a lot of kids don’t realize they have a problem and if they did, are embarrased seeking help. I think a lot of them think its normal or that’s how they have always been. Deep down, they must realize it’s not right and something is wrong. Wish they would use that gut feeling and seek help.

  • kaylee

    June 21st, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    I’m sure there are many of us and not just college students who find it difficult to relay personal info to that we are not really comfortable with. That’s when I think it would be a good idea to offer some sort of class on depression, maybe to help us all understand and help if needed.

  • Ashley

    July 1st, 2009 at 9:24 PM

    There are many students who seek help because they are lack of communication about their personal life and sometimes they don’t accept that they have problems and they need help.

  • Kristen

    September 12th, 2009 at 7:49 PM

    This post is so much later than the last posts, but I just want to comment on this, since it is so close to my situation.

    I am a 20 year old sophomore in college, and just this past week, I went into the university counseling center to meet with someone. It took a whole heck of a lot of convincing to get myself to walk through those doors, and this is coming from someone who has been taking depression medication for 3 years. Which means that I KNOW I can and will have occasional problems. There are so, so many other students who honestly have no clue that they are feeling things that are out of the norm.

    And, even though I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, I was so incredibly nervous going into the introductory meeting. I only talked about a few surface things, but after I left, I was tired, shaky, and even a teeny bit dizzy for the rest of the day. I never expected that I would have the opportunity to talk to someone who would listen without trying to equate their situation with my own, and it was actually slightly intimidating.

    And, even though I broke the ice (or made a few cracks), I still have to convince myself to go back, since it’s such a large step out of how I’ve conducted my life for so long. Some would be surprised that college students don’t just stick their heads in the sand in regards to their problems. I knew about the counseling center for a while, and I still had to give myself major pep talks before I ended up in the office.

  • WoopWOop

    September 7th, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    It is fine and dandy offering these programs to students but I think there is a much deeper seeded issue here that everyone seems to have overlooked and which I cannot put my finger on… But I think I can pinpoint one of the beneficiaries of the cause of the problem. That is the strong sense of individualism that represented and broadcast throughout the university culture.

    Just think about it, how long did it take you to learn your lecturers name or how long did it take to learn any of the tutorial or practical teachers names if you ever did? What about the teachers themselves do you think that they gave a rats ass who you are? It probably took them a full semester just to remember your face from their class.

    Now again I ask you to think about how many times you yourself offered help to someone else in your class who you might of known intuitively by their body language that they were struggling with the work? Would you go up and help them even if you didn’t know them? I think that is what has to be done, is the the university on a whole has to become more collectivist in its nature going right down to the marking criteria of the student. I remember in my prior studies before I went to uni that was one of the things we got marked on, was how much help did we offer other students… I don’t remember ever anyone coming in and being so stressed and not one person go up to them and offer them some help. It is also good learning tool because if you can explain something it must surely reinforce the learning and give you a better understanding of your own understanding.

    Another thing, it may also help with the much earlier detection of depression in a student if everyone is monitoring each other and reporting(if seeing fit) to a teacher who could then take the appropriate action.

    Some other solutions could be the encouragement of inter student communication via email or maybe the use of a discussion bored be made compulsory, say at least 2 posts and 2 replies every semester.

    Basically what I am getting at is that the reason so many students are stressed and depressed is because of the strenuous working conditions and feeling that have no where to turn if they hit a road block which then leads to the feeling of hopelessness.

  • chib

    October 3rd, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    honestly, speaking as someone who’s dealt with a college in the context of “you are depressed and need help” and just recently decided the best way to kill himself, the colleges are just afraid of getting sued

    maybe, MAYBE a few people on the lower end of administration care, but i was told in no uncertain terms by uc santa cruz that i was a liability for being unhappy

    oh and since i’m visibly depressed and are generally afraid to talk to anyone people either compare me to the guy from grandma’s boy or talk about how pitiful and creepy i am while i’m in earshot

    i won’t eat at one of the restaurants here specifically because of that

    and the students for whom college is iconic and wonderful lie to the students who are unhappy. as in my freshman year i had this conversation with the guy across the hall from me many times:

    him: “everyone ready for funday mondays?”

    other people: “fuck yeah we’re gonna get drunk”

    me: “let me know what’s going on. it sucks sitting in my room alone everyday”

    him: “oh well we’re not gonna really do anything”

    and then of course they’d all insist nothing was going on and i’d get to fucking cry myself to sleep to the sounds of the group who apparently wasn’t going to do anything getting drunk, having fun, and fucking each other…

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