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A rising number of UI students report depression

BY JENNY EARL | FEBRUARY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Depression has hit the University of Iowa campus — and UI health officials have noticed.

The number of UI students who have reported depression has doubled since 2009.

"Our numbers are a little up this year — demand is up a little bit," said Audrey Bahrick, a staff psychologist at the University Counseling Service. "We're seeing a lot of mood problems and mood disorders that include depression — a lot of anxiety."

A 2011 National College of Health assessment found 16 percent of UI students reporting depression — a 5 percentage-point increase over the nationwide average of depressed people between the ages of 18 and 24 reported in a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Keri Neblett, a community intervention director for the Johnson County Crisis Center, said she's also noticed the increase.

"Our crisis-line calls [have gone] up, and the severity of the issues of the calls we're dealing with [have also] increased," she said.

The majority of students who seek counseling are self-referred, Bahrick said, and they look for help dealing with mood disorders, anxiety, relationship issues, sexuality concerns, eating disorders, and struggles with the adjustment to college life.

Women made up the majority of UI students reporting depression in the assessment, more than five times the percentage of men. Linda Stewart Kroon, the director of the Women's Resource and Action Center, said the difference is likely due to social concerns.

"The expectations we have for women with weight and appearance can weigh heavily on them, and if we feel we can't measure up, then we get depressed," she said. "One of the things we hear frequently from women are social concerns related to how they see themselves being perceived by others."

Though it's common for students to face these issues, UI health officials said, depression puts students at a higher risk for more serious mental-health concerns. The same national assessment found 5.3 percent of UI students reported seriously considering suicide and 1.3 percent reported attempting suicide — women attempting three times as often as men.

The Crisis Center developed a new crisis-chat program in August 2011 to assist students who do not want to speak to a psychologist directly. Neblett said this can be useful for men, who aren't as likely to reach out for help.

"We have a higher percentage of women asking for help on the crisis line and chat services," she said. "I think part of it is due to our society, in which men are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and handle things on their own."

Last year, Bahrick said, 22 percent of UI students said they had some degree of suicidal thinking, with severity that ranges from those having an occasional thought of suicide to those feeling at imminent risk of self-harm.

"It's a high number, and something needs to be done about it, because that's a lot of people," Neblett said.

Although the number of students seeking counseling has risen, Bahrick said, she's glad to see students are taking advantage of free resources.

"We don't want [counseling] to be a mysterious process," she said. "We welcome everybody to come in. There's no obligation to continue, but they can hopefully come in and find something useful."


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