Student depression on the increase

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The Independent Online

Leaving your family and friends, paying the bills, living with strangers and get on with your academic work can all add up to a stressful environment, leaving many students feeling out of their comfort zone at university.

But for some students, these feelings don’t lift after a few days. People who are depressed lose pleasure and interest in life, and have feelings of worthlessness. They feel unable to sleep or concentrate properly, have little energy and are unable to motivate themselves to do things they used to able to cope with without a second thought. Such symptoms can happen frequently or become chronic, affecting everyday life; at its worst, depression can lead to suicide.

Depression is a big problem; some of the latest figures from the Government 2001 Census show that 127,000 16- to 25-years-old in the UK have suffered from a depressive episode and the problem is getting worse. More than half of the students who went for help at university counselling services in the 2006/2007 academic year did so for depression, compared with about a quarter in the 2003/2004.

Financial worries

“Top-up fees and financial worries are certainly important factors in this increase,” says Dr Ruth Caleb, Chair of the Association for University and College Counselling. “There are a huge number of pressures on students that can cause depression; there are a lot more strains and stresses than there used to be.

“Lots of students don’t have families who can [help them] financially and they have to get a part-time job which can be very hard,” Dr Caleb says. “Doing a degree is hard for anybody even if they have financial support so for people who haven’t got that it can be incredibly difficult.”

Leaving friends and family

As well as financial worries a-lot of other factors about being a student can leave you feeling depressed. It is a transitional period of your life where you have to move away from friends and family and meet a lot of new people. Making close relationships can be difficult and you may be missing home. University can also make you question who you are and where you fit in, you may have been very clever and popular at home but now you may be surrounded by lots of confident people at the same academic level and this could make you feel differently about yourself.

Paula Lavis, policy and knowledge manager of the Young Minds Charity, says, “Moving away from family and creating their own life can be very stressful for students. Doing all that hard work doesn’t even guarantee you a good job anymore, and with student loans on top it can be very difficult.“

Getting help

Although more students are going to counselling as a result of feeling depressed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that has to develop into full-blown, diagnosed depression. The important thing is to recognise the signs and get help early on. However, one problem with university counselling services is that a lot of them have waiting lists.

“The problem is that counselling services haven’t had staff increases to cater for the increases in students, says Dr Caleb. “I find the waiting lists really worrying: students can’t wait for help as failure is at the top of their minds. We are finding creative ways of handling the demand such as workshops and self-help books, and offering e-mail support.”

There is a lot of help out there. The charity Sane has recently launched Sane Mail, the sister services to its telephone help service. “It is sometimes easier for some people to tap out an e-mail rather than speak about their problems,” explains Richard Colwill, a spokesperson for Sane.

In addition there is the Students Against Depression website, which includes students talking about their own experiences. “The idea of the site is to provide information for the people that do not reach out and ask for help,” says Denise Meyer, a psychologist who set up the site. “According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence’s guidelines for people working with depression, 50 per cent of people don’t ask for help.” Make sure you don’t suffer in silence.