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Tackling student depression

October 19, 2007

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By Carol Thorbes

New studies indicate more female than male college and university students visit campus counsellors for depression, but at SFU, counsellors are concerned about both.

“While it is true that more female postsecondary students are diagnosed with depression,” notes Erika Horwitz, SFU associate director of counselling, “this is also the case in the general population. SFU Health and Counselling Services (HCS) recognizes that both men and women suffer from depression, although there may be differences in what symptoms they present or how willing they are to seek help.”

According to recent American studies, women enter college with higher levels of stress and depression, and with lower ratings of their own emotional and physical health, than men. Those gender differences persist over four years of college.

A 2007 Canadian Mental Health Association study indicates twice as many women as men are likely to seek help for symptoms related to depression.

A 2004 SFU HCS survey using the National College Health Assessment’s (U.S.-based) North America-wide research parameters, reported that 43 percent of SFU students said stress was negatively affecting their academic performance. More than 40 percent of students reported feeling “so depressed it was difficult to function” between one and 10 times within the previous 12-month period.

An American 2004 survey indicated that many postsecondary institutions are paying closer attention to the mental wellness of female students in light of their increasing enrollment, success and depression rate at North American colleges.

Pam Whiting, HCS director, says her department collaborates with faculty and staff to encourage students to access HCS services. Whiting adds: “Some professors have required their students to attend an HCS workshop as part of their class activities. Others have asked counsellors to host workshops on a variety of health topics, including work-life balance, stress management and mood enhancement.”

This fall, HCS will again anonymously survey the over-all health of the university student population on many fronts, including mental health. The survey will cover all three campuses and involve 4,000 students.

How HCS can help
During the fall 2006 and spring 2007 semesters at SFU, HCS held more than 1,200 initial counselling sessions. In the last year, more than 300 students have used a depression-screening tool.
  • HCS is offering a six-week workshop series this fall that teaches students skills to cope with depressive symptoms and strategies for enhancing mood and managing feelings.
  • HCS offers an online mental-health screening program that screens for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Visit the mental health website.
  • HCS runs an after-hour crisis line, Nightline, with trained SFU student volunteers. The number of male and female callers is roughly the same.
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