Depressive Symptoms in a Sample of Social Work Students and Reasons Preventing Students from Using Mental Health Services: An Exploratory Study

By Ting, Laura | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Depressive Symptoms in a Sample of Social Work Students and Reasons Preventing Students from Using Mental Health Services: An Exploratory Study


Ting, Laura, Journal of Social Work Education


ONE OF THE MOST common and often re searched mental health concerns in college students is depression (Adams, Wharton, Quilter, & Hirsch, 2008; Bayram & Bilgel, 2008; Michael, Huelsman, Gerard, Gilligan, & Gustafson, 2006; Mikolajczyk et al., 2008). However, there is limited research on the prevalence of depression in social work students and their help-seeking beliefs. Depression in students is of concern to administrators and educators due to the impact it has on students' ability to learn and to be productive members of the university community. Untreated depression in students has been correlated with increased physical illnesses, self-harm, substance use, and academic impairment (Michael et al., 2006).

Depression is considered the most pervasive mental health problem in the United States with over 18 million people affected annually (Riolo, Nguyen, Greden, & King, 2005). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2005-2006, 5.4% of the U.S. population aged 12 and over experienced depression in any given 2-week period (Pratt & Brody, 2008). Risk factors for depression include being female, of minority status, single, unemployed, and of low income status (Gutierrez-Lobos, Wolfl, Scherer, Anderer, & Schmidl-Mohl, 2000; Pratt & Brody, 2008). Age was also a risk factor; young adults and older adults were more at risk for depression than middle-aged individuals (Pratt & Brody, 2008). Of those suffering from depression, the majority do not report seeking professional help. Although depression is considered highly treatable, estimates of those who seek help are low, ranging from 20% to 39%; others avoid treatment for a myriad of reasons such as fear of stigma, lack of knowledge, and concerns with quality of care (Pratt & Brody, 2008).

Among college samples worldwide, researchers have found that self-report rates of depression ranged widely. The variability may be due to the different measures used and time frame under question. The American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment asked students to report how they felt in the past 12 months, and 19% of students reported feeling depressed (Adams et al., 2008). When asked, however, about feelings "in the past week," 22.8% to 45% of students reported depression symptoms (Bayram & Bilgel, 2008; Mikolajczyk et al., 2008). Michael and colleagues (2006) reported 43% of students in their study indicated experiencing depression in their lifetimes.

In college student samples, despite higher self-reported rates of depression as compared to the general population, the help-seeking rates were very low, ranging from 3% to 12% (Adams et al., 2008; Michael et al., 2006). Schwitzer (2005) reported that college students more likely to seek help were those who were less at risk and higher functioning, compared to students at higher risk with more adjustment and coping problems. Overall attitudes toward help-seeking were also not positive, with men and minority students least likely to seek help (Sheu & Sedlacek, 2004; Yoo & Skovholt, 2001). Researchers examining students' levels of education and help-seeking attitudes have found mixed results; Al-Darmaki (2003) reported that college seniors had more tolerance and positive attitudes toward mental health providers. Kilinc and Granello (2003) and Hickie and colleagues (2007), however, found that level of education was not a significant predictor of positive attitudes toward help-seeking among students. Commonly cited reasons against help-seeking by college and medical school students were suspicion and distrust of mental health services, feelings of stigma (both personal self-stigma and stigma from others), and fear of being judged (Chew-Graham, Rogers, & Yassin, 2003; Sheu & Sedlacek, 2004). Eisenberg, Downs, Golberstein, and Zivin (2009) delineate public stigma as negative stereotypes and attitudes toward mental illness developed by society as perceived by others in the community, whereas self-stigma occurs when an individual internalizes these values and applies it personally. …

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