Stress spurs health problems, depression in college students

By Ariel Serafin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 7, 2005

Constant time commitments and emotional pressures can take a serious toll on a student's health, which suggests that stress and depression are related, psychologists said.

Approximately 10 percent of college students are diagnosed with depression, with an untold number suffering through their illness in silence, according to the American College Health Association.

Kala Annambhotla, a psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services program, said she thinks the reason for many instances of depression in college is not school itself, but the many stressful "triggers" students encounter while at a university.

"Certainly college is a stressful time period - there are a lot of demands," Annambhotla said. "I wouldn't say it's the stress of college causing (depression) but that there are a lot of potential stressors in college."

A study at the University of Pittsburgh determined that the ages of 18 to 25 are the prime years for serious mental health issues, like depression, to arise in an adult's life.

Annambhotla said stress can be manifested in the body in a variety of ways, the most common being sleep deprivation, lowered immunity and changes in appetite.

Students suffering from depression can also experience these same symptoms.

Depression symptoms include, but are not limited to, changes in appetite and sleeping habits, withdrawal from activities, anxiety or nervousness, and lack of interest in friends or school, said Marian Binder, psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services.

"Stress can precipitate people to feeling depressed," said Binder, who agreed stress could definitely play a role in a student's mental health. "But it is important to know that some forms of depression do not require stress."

Pre-business sophomore Brad Miner said he thinks the assortment of new commitments and experiences that come with college do take a toll on his healthy lifestyle.

"Last year there were two or three days where I didn't even eat because I was just so busy," Miner said.

But stress can also have more detrimental effects on a student's well-being than just causing weight loss or a cold.

Annambhotla said prolonged exposure to the stress that often accompanies college life can be more than a student can psychologically handle.

"People are just constantly going, going, going, and sometimes that stress can just push people over the edge," Annambhotla said.

Annambhotla cited an assortment of potential depression triggers, including heightened academic expectations, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, relationship troubles or ongoing family problems.

"(Students') parents might be going through a lot of chaos and students get drawn in," Annambhotla said.

Pre-education freshman Craig Winchell said in the case of his friend's depression, stressing out about trouble back at home was the trigger of her mood change.

"When she had troubles in school or with friends there was nothing for her to go back to," Winchell said.

Though a student can usually trace his or her depression back to a particular situation, such as family problems, many cases of depression occur from multiple factors, Annambhotla said.

Rather than just one traumatic event negatively affecting his lifestyle, Miner said, all of the stresses of living on campus combined are what affects him.

"There are an abundance of stressors that come with school, like social environment, lecture halls, living on your own, being financially responsible and trying to stay healthy," Miner said. "Some people just feel like a spot on the carpet."

Students who are experiencing stress-related problems or depression have many treatment options.

Two of the most effective options are cognitive behavioral therapy, which works on students' beliefs and expectations about themselves, and interpersonal therapy, which focuses on student relationships, Annambhotla said.

Additional possible treatments include group therapy sessions, yoga, meditation and acupuncture. Many of these treatments can be accessed through Campus Health Service.

Students who have questions, concerns or need help with their mental health care can call the UA CAPS program at (520) 621-3334. Initial visits with the triage counselor are free of charge.