Study suggests screening for depression in university health centers

If you're having a bad day, you're not alone.

Factors such as weather, debt, monthly salary, time since Christmas and failed New Year's resolutions point to today as the most depressing day of the year, also called Blue Monday.

With seasonal affective disorder peaking this time of year, students visiting the health center should consider getting a screening for depression as well as their physical symptoms. SAD can happen during either the summer or winter, when the climate of the season triggers hormones in the brain.

Between one-fourth and one-fifth of students who visit a university health center for a physical illness are actually withholding depression, according to a study from Northwestern University.

Universities across the country are missing the opportunity to screen for depression, which would only take a couple of minutes per student, according to the study.

The most recent Ball State National College Health Assessment showed 20 percent of students had significant anxiety and 12 percent of students had significant depression.

Kent Bullis, medical director at the Amelia T. Wood Health Center, said significant anxiety or depression interfere with the student's academics, such as dropping classes or letting grades drop.

The Counseling Center handles diagnosing and screening students with depression and the Health Center treats a large number of mental disorders for students. The study suggests bridging the gap between university health centers and counseling centers by screening for depression in the health centers.

The study proposes a simple seven question survey for students to take while waiting to be seen by a doctor. The responses could then be logged and analyzed for depression in a couple of moments so the doctor or nurse could then address the problem while examining the student.

Depression screening is a simple procedure every university needs to do, Michael Fleming, professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University and head of the study, said in a press release.

"Depression screening is easy to do. We know it works and it can save lives," Fleming said. "It should be done for every student who walks into a health center."

This is the first study to screen for depression of large quantities strictly in health centers. Studies similar to it are usually done with the general college population or students in counseling centers. The results of the health center study returned nearly double the number of students with depression and suicidal thoughts on campus than general college sample studies.

Fleming said students can become depressed by changes in everyday life so constant depression screening at health care centers could detect depression at a much higher rate than screening anywhere else.

"Things continually happen to students. A low grade or problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend can trigger depression," he said. "If you don't take the opportunity to screen at every visit, you are going to miss these kids."

Bullis said the results of the Northwestern University study surprised him.

"It is interesting [because] we have never actually screened [for depression]," he said. "It makes you wonder if there is something about those with depression [being] more likely to seek medical attention, or if people with depression have a higher rate of [physical illness] than students in the general population."

Ball State's chapter of the Alive Campaign already has plans to boost depression screening on campus.

Junior public relations major and executive irector of the Alive Campaign Jonathan Huff said screening for depression could make a big difference at Ball State.

"The screening specifically is important because these are some of the most undiagnosed problems people have," he said. "It is not so much that we discover a problem. It is about discovering the source of the problem, which is just the first step."


Blue Monday

Jan 24

Once a year, always 3rd Monday of January

Discovered by UK psychologist Cliff Arnall

Result of SAD - seasonal affective disorder

Symptoms of SAD :

* decreased levels of energy

* difficulty concentrating

* fatigue

* increase in appetite

* increased desire to be alone

* increased need for sleep

* weight gain


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