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College Mental Health | NNDC

College Mental Health


Daniel Kirsch, MD, UMass Medical School / UMass Memorial Health Care
Michelle Riba, MD, University of Michigan

College has been called “the age of depression.” It’s no surprise that depression is so prevalent in college students. The symptoms of depression are most commonly seen first in the early teen years and increase through the college years.  College brings with it new sources of stress, and more easy access to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol, all while students are adjusting to life beyond the familiar support systems of home. Those and other factors can trigger depression.   The consequences for this population are significant.  Depression is the number one risk factor for suicide, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students.

To address this urgent mental health issue, the College Mental Health Task Group, started in February 2011, is working to identify resources available to researchers, clinicians and educators working in the field of college mental health.  In addition, the Task Group members have identified college depression education outreach programs at their NNDC Centers of Excellence with the potential to be disseminated and implemented at other member centers.  Examples include the Depression on College Campuses initiative, a conference which began in 2001 at the University of Michigan, and Campus MindWorks, a web-based initiative developed at the University of Michigan Depression Center and supported by the U.S. Department of Education.  The College Mental Health Task Group is currently comprised of 25 members representing 13 NNDC Centers of Excellence.

Why A Task Group

The College Mental Health Task Group was formed to fill the need for answers and guidelines concerning mental health in the college population. Special difficulties accompany this stage in life filled with hard decisions, changes, and the acceptance of more responsibility. During the transition to adulthood, college students may experience vulnerabilities that need to be addressed before they can develop into happy, functioning adults.

Research & Background

College students are required to navigate a complicated social structure when managing their platonic and romantic relationships, and these social factors can have a huge impact on their emotional health. There is a link between college students' reported incidences of casual sex and their psychological distress (1). On the other hand, perceived social support has been shown to moderate anxiety and depression in college students with perfectionist tendencies (2).

Emerging adults are particularly vulnerable to things such as drug and alcohol abuse as well as adverse current events. Alcohol use in conjunction with impulsivity has been shown to affect how depressive symptoms affect suicide proneness in college students (3). After the Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath events, there were sharp increases in college students' primary and mental health care visits for depression and anxiety (4). Exposure to physical danger can take an emotional toll on everyone, and college students are no exception.


1. Bersamin, M. M., Zamboanga, B. L., Schwartz, S. J., Donnellan, M. B., Hudson, M., Weisskirch, R. S., Kim, S. Y., Agocha, V. B., Whitbourne, S. K., & Caraway, S. J. (2013). Risky business: Is there an association between casual sex and mental health among emerging adults? Journal of Sex Research. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23742031

2. Zhou, X., Zhu, H., & Cai, T. (2013). Perceived social support as moderator of perfectionism, depression, and anxiety in college students. Social Behavior and Personality, 41(7). Retrieved from: http://www.sbpjournal.com/index.php/sbp/article/view/3148

3. Dvorak, R. D., Lamis, D. A., & Malone, P. S. (2013). Alcohol use, depressive symptoms, and impulsivity as risk factors for suicide proneness among college students. Journal of Affective Disorders, 149(1-3), 326-334. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032713001195

4. Wald, A., Leveille, S., & Halon, P. (2013) College health service utilization following the Boston marathon bombing events. Poster at American Public Health Association 2013 meeting. Retrieved from: https://apha.confex.com/apha/141am/webprogram/Paper295399.html

Members of the Task Group have been busy in the past few months!

Here are some of the relevant articles published by members of the College Mental Health Task Group. Members' names are in bold.


Title: Relationship between sleep disturbance and depression, anxiety, and functioning in college students

Journal: Depression and Anxiety

Publication Date: online May 2013

Authors: Nyer, M, Farabaugh, A, Fehling, K, Soskin, D, Holt, D, Papakostas, GI, Pedrelli, P, Fava, M, Pisoni, A, Vitolo O, & Mischoulon D

Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23681944


Title: Self-reported barriers to professional help seeking among college students at elevated risk for suicide

Journal: Journal of American College Health

Publication Date: Online July 8, 2013

Authors: Czyz E. K., Horwitz, A. G., Eisenberg, D., Kramer, A., & King, C. A.

Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07448481.2013.820731#.UhOrnZJJObM