How many students suffer depression in silence?

Students just might not feel they have the time to seek help

Twent-five per cent of university students who seek medical attention on campus may be suffering from depression, according to a new study.

That’s a pretty high number, especially considering that the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that only eight per cent of Canadians will ever suffer from clinical depression.

It’s probably fair to say that students with depression are more likely to visit their campus clinic, even if they don’t realize they’re suffering from depression.

According to the National Post “students often arrive at the campus clinic complaining of something physical—from fatigue to premature ejaculation — when the real underlying problem is psychological.”

“Frequently they don’t recognize these symptoms as symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression,” Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, director of student health services at McGill University told the paper.

Now, I’m assuming here, but I feel like most students rarely, if ever, visit health services; students just don’t have time to be sick.

So how many students are suffering in silence? Not feeling sick enough to go to the doctor or thinking that their sad feelings aren’t serious enough to merit medical attention. Could the real rate of depression among university students be even higher?

It’s definitely possible. According to a 2009 Globe and Mail story, around 15 per cent of  students are diagnosed with a mental illness while they’re in university. And that number doesn’t count those who don’t seek treatment, which some researchers believe could be as many as half of those suffering, or those who are already receiving treatment.

This isn’t just a North American problem, researchers in Australia recently found that university students are five times more likely to suffer from mental illness than the rest of the population.

Suicide is the second biggest killer of young Canadians, after accidents, so this is clearly an important public health issue.

Our society has certainly come a long way when it comes to normalizing and treating mental illness but even depression is still stigmatized. More importantly, it’s high time to start looking into what’s causing students to have such high rates of depression and other mental illnesses.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.