CHICAGO --- One out of every four or five students who visits a university health center for a routine cold or sore throat turns out to be depressed, but most centers miss the opportunity to identify these students because they don't screen for depression, according to new Northwestern Medicine research.
About 2 to 3 percent of these depressed students have had suicidal thoughts or are considering suicide, the study found.
"Depression screening is easy to do, we know it works, and it can save lives," said Michael Fleming, professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It should be done for every student who walks into a health center."
The consequences of not finding and treating these students can be can be serious and even deadly. "These kids might drop out of school because they are so sad or hurt or kill themselves by drinking too much or taking drugs," Fleming said.
"Things continually happen to students a low grade or problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend -- that can trigger depression," Fleming said. "If you don't take the opportunity to screen at every visit, you are going to miss these kids."
Fleming, who joined Feinberg in the fall of 2010, is lead author of a paper on the findings in the January issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. He conducted the research when he was a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin.
The study is the first to screen for depression in a large population of students who are coming to campus health centers for routine care. Prior depression studies have been conducted by surveying general college samples or students in counseling centers. The frequency of depression and suicidal thoughts among campus health clinic users was nearly twice as high as rates reported in general college samples.
Depressed students need treatment, which may include counseling and medication. These stud
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