Among students who go to university health centers for a physical ailment, between one-fifth and one-quarter are depressed, according to Northwestern University researchers.
However, the condition often goes undiagnosed because most university health centers don’t screen for depression, they say.
The researchers also found that 2 percent to 3 percent of these depressed students have had suicidal thoughts or are considering suicide.
“Depression screening is easy to do, we know it works, and it can save lives. It should be done for every student who walks into a health center,” said lead author Dr. Michael Fleming, a professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Fleming and his colleagues surveyed 1,622 students who went to health centers at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia. The study findings are published in the January issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
The consequences of not identifying and treating students with depression can be serious and even deadly.
“These kids might drop out of school because they are so sad, or hurt or kill themselves by drinking too much or taking drugs,” Fleming said.
He noted that university students face many challenges, and events such as a low grade or problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend can trigger depression. “If you don’t take the opportunity to screen at every [health center] visit, you are going to miss these kids,” Fleming said.