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When college-goers refuse help

Despite access to free counselling, majority of college kids do not seek help for depression and anxiety, says a study.

health-and-fitness Updated: Jun 25, 2007 17:19 IST


Studies already show that the incidence of mental illness on college campuses is rising, and a new survey of 2,785 American college students has revealed that more than half of students with significant symptoms of anxiety or depression do not seek help.

Daniel Eisenberg, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, along with doctoral students Sarah Gollust and Ezra Golberstein conducted the web-based survey in an attempt to quantify mental health service use and factors associated with whether or not students seek help.

“This is despite the fact that resources are available at no cost on campus. Looking at the same issues at 12-15 universities nationwide will begin this fall,” Eisenberg said.

At U-M where the study was conducted, students have access to free mental health and counselling services. Yet, among those with significant symptoms of depressive or anxiety disorders, anywhere from 37 to 84 per cent of students didn't seek treatment, depending on the disorder.

However, 72 percent of students with positive screens for major depression did acknowledge they needed help for their mental health. Overall, about 10 per cent of students surveyed said they received therapy, and the same percentage said they took some type of psychotropic drug.

"We can't assume that reducing financial barriers is enough," Eisenberg said.

The study found that one of the biggest predictors of whether a student sought help was socioeconomic background - students who reported growing up in poor families were almost twice as likely not to seek help. Poor students were also much more prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.

“Other factors associated with not seeking treatment included lack of perceived need, being unaware of services or insurance coverage, skepticism about effectiveness, or being Asian or Pacific Islander. Women were more likely to realise they need treatment and seek it,” he said.

Most mental disorders first occur before age 24, and those problems often have long-term implications into adulthood. Studying a university setting lends insight into what other factors besides affordability keep people from seeking help.

Eisenberg stressed that even though the incidence of mental disorders on college campuses is rising, studying the conditions surrounding the phenomenon presents an opportunity.

"Often college student mental health is framed as a problem on the rise. One can also think of it as a unique opportunity because college campuses offer several ways to reach students and affect their lives positively," Eisenberg said.

The study, ‘Help-seeking and access to mental health care in a university student population’ appears online in the journal Medical Care.

First Published: Jun 25, 2007 12:39 IST

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