Fifteen percent of college students suffered from depression last year,
up from 10 percent in 2000, according to The American College Health
Association. Mental health professionals on college campuses expect
the percentage to rise again this year, but St. Lawrence University
is addressing the problem by participating in a national pilot project
to improve screening and care for students with depression.
According to an article published in the April 6 issue of
Psychiatric News, St. Lawrence is one of eight institutions in
the study and the only small private liberal arts institution.
The goal of the project, which runs this academic year, is to ensure
that students with depression do not slip through the cracks, but rather
are identified and treated as soon as symptoms arise, says
Director of Health and Counseling Services Patricia Ellis.
Ellis reports that staff have screened nearly 90 percent of student walk-ins
to the health and counseling center, using a nine-item depression screening
instrument known as a Patient History Questionnaire, or PHQ-9, which takes
students only a few minutes to fill out, often while they wait to be treated
for a minor ailment. By year's end, Ellis expects to have screened more
than eight out of 10 students.
The PHQ-9 screening tool is based on a number score, with mild depression
being a score between 5 and 14; moderate between 15 and 19; and severe 20
and above. Ellis says those with moderate or severe PHQ-9 scores are
referred to a counselor on the spot. A goal of the project is to reduce
depressed students' PHQ-9 scores by at least five points over an eight-week
period or to below 10 in a 12-week period.
"We had a student recently come in complaining of a cold," Ellis says. "She
took the PHQ-9 and her score was an 18. We immediately began counseling
on a weekly basis. The student is now doing well academically and feeling
much better. I have no doubt that our early screening and treatment avoided
Such consequences, she says, typically include poor grades, flunking out
of school or in serious cases, doing harm to oneself or others. Suicide
also is rising steadily among adolescents, Ellis notes.
"Of all the students we screened this year, about five percent required
follow-up counseling," says Ellis.
Ellis says the 11 primary care and counseling staff are treating more
students than ever before, but they now collaborate more efficiently
because the PHQ-9 screening tool gives the primary care and counseling
staff a common language to use in discussing students' evaluations.
"The need for mental health services among college students is growing,"
Henry Chung, M.D., told Psychiatric News. Chung is the principal
investigator for the project and assistant vice president of student
health at New York University, one of the participating schools. Other
participating schools are Cornell University, Princeton University,
Hunter College, Baruch College, Case Western Reserve University and
Northeastern University. The Aetna Foundation, New York Community Trust
and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provide
funding for the project; the American Psychiatric Institute for Research
and Education provides expertise.
Posted: May 3, 2007