Increase of depression nationwide, Elon rates remain the same

Graphic by Sarah Costello.

Some people call it the silent killer. Depression has recently increased in college-aged students across the country, but the depression rates at Elon have not dramatically increased.

According to a study published in USA Today the amount of college students with hypomania, “a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism,” has risen from 5 percent of students in 1938 to 31 percent in 2007. The amount of students with depression has increased from 1 percent in 1938 to 6 percent in 2007.

The World Health Organization defines depression as a common mental disorder characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy and poor concentration.

The national trend cites students in 2007 were five times more likely to “surpass thresholds in one or more mental health categories” than students in 1938. This trend is not as evident at Elon.

Elon counselor Chris Troxler said between 60-70 percent of students come into the health and counseling services for anxiety or stress related issues. In a year, 35-40 percent of students come in for depression.

“We see probably around 500 students in a year,” Troxler said. “Frequently, if you’re anxious enough, you get depressed. In some ways it’s a bit of a continuum. Untreated anxiety can turn into depression.”

When Troxler began working at the Elon Health and Counseling Services Center in 2001, 5 percent of the student body came in. By the 2009-2010 school year, that percentage had doubled to 11 percent.

Troxler said there hasn’t been a dramatic increase during the last 10 years in the cases of depression at Elon. There have been more cases, but not a drastic increase.

“So many things are radically different now than in 1938,” Troxler said. “A relatively small percentage of people went to college then. There were no coed dorms, very few coed colleges, segregation was in effect. The flow of information was much slower and relationships developed in a different manner. There are many reasons why the numbers of depressed students have grown nationally in recent history.”

Elon has become more competitive, and students have higher achievements, class rank and SAT scores.

“The current student body is under more pressure both to get in here and do well here, which creates some background level of stress,” Troxler said.

Additionally, alcohol and drug use can have an impact on anxiety and depression. Troxler said the use of alcohol and drugs to deal with stress is inappropriate and ineffective. In 1938, most colleges did not have counseling services. It was at the early stages of the counseling service movement.

“The attitude was to suck it up and muddle through,” Troxler said. “Now everybody knows you can get help, and people are choosing to do that.”

The number of students with pre-existing mental health issues has risen to 17 percent for the current freshman class, compared to 6 percent of the incoming freshman class in 2000, Troxler said.

“These students as a group are more likely to come back as sophomores than the rest of the class,” Troxler said. “People who have gone through difficulties and dealt with their problems seem to be more able to cope with the stress of going to college.”

Elon offers many options to relieve stress. The Elon Health and Counseling services recommend many of these activities as a way to reduce stress.

“There is meditation, yoga classes, exercise, the Truitt Center often offers activities, like ballroom dancing and service projects,” Troxler said. “To get your mind off your own troubles and focus on somebody else’s can be very therapeutic.”