U students report more depression

The 2013 Boynton Health Survey also found that fewer students smoke.

by Tyler Gieseke

This year, more University of Minnesota students reported being diagnosed with depression than in 2010, according to a recent survey. Experts say the finding mirrors a growing demand for mental health resources on campus.

The survey also found that a smaller number of students are using tobacco — at a time when the University community is debating a tobacco-free campus policy.

Boynton Health Service’s 2013 College Student Health Survey, released late last month, provides insight into the health of students on the University’s Twin Cities campus. Other recent surveys of the campus were in 2010 and 2007.

In the past three years, the percentage of University students who reported being diagnosed with depression in their lifetime has increased from 16.6 percent to 19.3 percent, according to the survey.

The number of students who reported being diagnosed in the past year also increased — from about 6 percent to nearly 8 percent.

It’s unclear why there was an uptick in reported diagnoses, but the numbers seem to mirror increased requests for mental health resources on campus, Boynton’s Director of Public Health and Communications Dave Golden said.

“Demand is really quite high,” he said.

Chemistry junior Callahan Clark said it’s likely that students’ stress contributes to the increase in depression diagnoses.

“School is really stressful,” she said.

Pre-nursing freshman Shauna Ling agreed.

“There’s more pressure on students nowadays to get a job quickly and do good in school,” she said.

But Clark said she wondered whether the higher numbers meant more students were diagnosed with depression or if more were seeking help.

The University is becoming more vocal about the mental health support it offers, she said, citing a recent email from Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young as an example.

Brown Young sent the email to the University’s faculty, staff and students last week, encouraging those in need of support to visit the University’s mental health website and seek resources.

Communication like this could influence more students with depression to look for help and be diagnosed, Clark said.

“Maybe there’s just more awareness,” she said.

Falling tobacco use

The portion of 18- to 24-year-old University students using tobacco has decreased by more than half since 1998, the survey found.

Golden said he’s been predicting for years that tobacco use numbers will level off, but they’re still dropping.

He attributed the continued downturn to a growing number of incoming students who don’t smoke. He said those students have grown up in a society where tobacco use is restricted in many places and where fewer people use tobacco in general.

Ling said she thought a higher tobacco tax could be a factor in lower use.

“Prices have become very expensive,” she said, “and college students are poor.”

The drop in tobacco use comes at a time when the University is set to adopt a tobacco-free campus policy.

Golden said the President’s Policy Committee will review a draft of the proposed policy this week. Once the PPC approves the final draft, it will become available for 30 days of public comment. The University could make changes to the policy based on feedback.

The University of St. Thomas recently approved a ban on tobacco use. Its Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses will be tobacco-free starting Jan. 1.

“They’ve been talking about it for quite a while,” Golden said. “It’s really nice to see St. Thomas jump in.”

Ling said she would like to see a tobacco-free campus. She said she’s “not a big fan” of smoking — her uncle and grandfather died of lung cancer.

Although Clark said she would be happy to not smell smoke on campus anymore, she thought others wouldn’t be as happy.

“I feel bad for my friends that smoke between classes,” she said.