LSA senior Emily Cepla has been dealing with depression ever since the seventh grade, but it didn’t really affect her schoolwork until she reached the University her freshman year.
“My grades started to suffer because I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “I wasn’t going to classes and I wasn’t doing my homework. It also affected my social life because since I wasn’t getting out of bed, I wasn’t going out.”
Cepla’s struggle with the depression continued and by the time she reached her junior year she had tried 15 different kinds of anti-depressant medication and none of them seemed to work.
And Cepla is not alone.
A recent study by a University researcher confirms what many have suspected for some time: many college students suffer from mental illness and a sizable portion of them don’t seek help.
In an article that has set to be published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Public Health Assistant Prof. Daniel Eisenberg writes that 95 percent of campus psychological counseling centers surveyed in 2008 reported a significant increase in mental health issues among students.
The article goes on to say that the proportion of students reporting to have been diagnosed with depression has increased between 10 to 15 percent since 2000.
“Whether that’s because students are more likely to seek help than they used to be as opposed to the possibility that there are just more students with mental health problems is less clear,” Eisenberg said of the study. “It mostly has to do with increased likelihood of seeking help but there may also be some true increase in mental health issues in the overall student population.”
Eisenberg said that even though students appear to be more likely to seek help when they need it, there are still students with mental health problems who are not seeking help.
“It’s important to keep both the trend in mind but also the level that we’re still at,” he said.
Another article published in the July 2007 issue of Medical Care reported that somewhere between 37 and 84 percent of students at the University of Michigan who had positive screens for depression or anxiety weren’t receiving services.
The findings came from a random sampling of 2,785 students.
“Even in an environment with universal access to free short-term psychotherapy and basic health services, most students with apparent mental disorders did not receive treatment,” the article stated. “Initiatives to improve access to mental health care for students have the potential to produce substantial benefits in terms of mental health and related outcomes.”
Eisenberg said that while many students aren’t seeking help for mental health issues, the stigma associated with mental health disorders is shrinking.
“Today’s college students have less stereotypical attitudes than students 10 or 20 years ago,” he said. “I think that has to do with the fact that a lot more students are receiving services and treatment before even coming to college so students know more about it.”
Eisenberg’s findings are part of an ongoing study at the University called the Healthy Minds Study, which aims to understand stigma barriers along with other topics, like mental health issues and help-seeking behavior, according to the study’s website.
HMS was first launched at the University as a pilot study in 2005 and was later brought to 13 other universities in 2007 and now features 16 schools and counting.
Eisenberg, the study’s principle investigator, said there is a lot of data available about students receiving help for mental health issues, but the information on those who aren’t seeking help is limited.
“We’re trying to understand more about this,” he said. “We’re consistently seeing when you look at students who appear to have severe mental health problems the majority are not receiving services so we’re trying to figure out why not, what the barriers might be, etc.”
Cepla, who is also a board member of Finding Voice, a group on campus that uses art to raise awareness about mental health issues, said that though there are many students with mental health issues on campus, there is still a stigma associated with them.
Cepla cited an incident during Festifall at the beginning of the semester when a student looking at a picture of a girl with anorexia said the subject of the drawing should just “eat the damn cookie.”
“When we put on art shows at the Depression on College Campus Conference with a lot of teachers and faculty and researchers there’s very little judgment and everyone is willing to help out. But at Festifall, for example, very few people came to talk to us,” she said. “I’ve witnessed people come over and look around to see who was watching them before they came over.”