CONTACT: STEPHEN PRADARELLI
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Oct. 18, 1999
Study: Depression, suicide thoughts are down among
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The percentage of college students
who reported feeling depressed and having suicidal thoughts declined between
1987 and 1997 while suicide attempts remained constant, according to a 10-year
follow-up study coauthored by University of Iowa Professor John Westefeld.
Westefeld, a professor and suicidologist in the UI
College of Educations Division of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations,
reports in "Suicide and Depression Among College Students Revisited"
that 81 percent of the 962 students surveyed in 1987 indicated they had experienced
what they would label as depression since beginning college. Of the 1,455
students surveyed in 1997, 53 percent said they had experienced depression.
In 1987, 32 percent of the students said they had
thought about committing suicide at some point, while in 1997 8.5 percent
said they thought of ending their own lives. The percentage of students who
said they had attempted suicide while in college remained fairly constant
over the decade: 1.03 percent in 1987 versus .96 percent in 1997.
A paper detailing the studys findings was presented
in August at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association
in Boston. The paper was coauthored by Susan R. Furr of the University of
North Carolina at Charlotte, Gaye McConnell of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
and Marshall Jenkins of Berry College.
The 1997 sample included students from four institutions:
a major research state university in the Midwest, a state university in the
Southeast, a community college and a small, private liberal arts college in
the Southeast. The 1987 sample included students from three institutions:
two large state universities and a small college.
"The data raises a lot of interesting questions
about depression, isolation, loneliness and other experiences of college students
that need to be followed up on," said Westefeld. "On the other hand,
while the same questionnaire was administered to both the 1987 and 1997 groups
of students, the groups were different enough that we cant really make
generalizations about all college students."
For example, Westefeld says, just because reports
of depression were down in 1997, students in that group werent necessarily
happier. Between 1987 and 1997, the rate of suicide and reports of key causes
of both depression and suicide (i.e. loneliness, hopelessness and helplessness)
remained fairly constant. One possible explanation for the drop in reports
of depression may be that public education efforts have equipped students
to better distinguish true depression from the doldrums.
"Clearly there remains a need for colleges and
universities to address these issues, particularly the issues of hopelessness,
loneliness and helplessness," said Westefeld. "Prevention workshops
on the topic of suicide remain important, as they were in 1987."
Another possible reason for the decline in self-reported
depression and suicidal thoughts may be the greater availability and awareness
of psychotropic drugs. Among students in the 1997 group who said they had
sought professional counseling and considered it helpful, 18 percent indicated
that they felt medication was at least partially responsible for their improvement.
In contrast, none of the students in the 1987 survey mentioned medication.
"There may be increased utilization of medication
on college campuses, and it appears to be helpful, at least according to this
study," Westefeld said