Depression on College Campuses conference

February 23, 2004

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - College is a time of transitions: leaving home, taking on new responsibilities, facing new academic and financial pressures, and building different support systems. While some degree of stress is normal in times of transition, for some students, it can become overwhelming.

Add to that a lack of sleep time and alcohol consumption, and you have a recipe for depression. In fact, all three of those factors - stress, sleep, and alcohol - can make students more prone to developing depression or exacerbate existing symptoms. In fact, depression vulnerability peaks in a person's late teen years, and experts estimate that as many as 15 percent of college-aged young people may have some form of depressive illness.

On March 9 and 10, experts from around the country will gather at the University of Michigan for a conference addressing depression on college campuses. It will put special focus on the impact that stress, sleep and alcohol have on the onset and progression of depression and bipolar disorder in college-age young adults.

The event is the second Depression on College Campuses conference jointly sponsored by the U-M Depression Center and U-M's Rackham School of Graduate Studies. It follows on the success of the 2003 conference, which attracted more than 500 educators, mental health professionals, students, advocates, authors and scientists and represented the first national conference ever held on the topic.

This year's featured speakers include the directors of three of the National Institutes of Health, noted author and psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., who will be introduced by CBS's Mike Wallace, and 26-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers football player John Howell, who last June went public about his struggle with depression and his success in receiving treatment.

In addition, students and recent graduates who head mental health awareness and advocacy programs on campuses across the country will lead workshops designed specifically for other students, to help foster an idea exchange and to train future advocacy group leaders.

The event will also feature mental health and neuroscience experts, and student counseling leaders, from U-M and other campuses, and speakers from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The conference will take place at the Rackham Graduate School and the Michigan League in Ann Arbor. Pre-registration for the conference ends February 24, though walk-in registration will be available at the door as space permits. The conference is free for students with current ID and for members of the media, $50 for University of Michigan faculty and staff, and $75 for all others, with group discounts available.

Lunch on March 9 is available for $15. Continuing medical education credit is available for physicians. For more information and to register, visit For answers to questions, call 734-763-7495 or 734-647-2644, or e-mail or

The conference aims to bring together a broad range of participants, all of whom have a role in improving mental health awareness and education, the detection and treatment of depression, and suicide prevention.

"We will only be able to address the problem of depression on college campuses if physicians, allied health providers, university leaders, residence hall advisers, student leaders, preventive education specialists, third-party payors, mental health advocates, journalists, and parents get involved," says John Greden, M.D., executive director of the U-M Depression Center, the only center in the nation devoted to research, treatment and education on all forms of depression. "We hope this conference will once again bring all of these key players together for a practical outcome."

Greden co-chairs the organizing committee with Rackham Dean Earl Lewis, Ph.D. The conference is sponsored by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as well as financial support from a diverse group of U-M departments, schools and institutes.

Among the featured speakers will be: The event will feature many workshops and discussion groups, as well as panel sessions, educational displays, a video documentary featuring students with depression, and a film called "The Truth About Suicide" from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Background information on college students and depression:

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 18.8 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the nation's population age 18 and older, have a depressive illness. Depression most often begins in late childhood, in adolescence, or in early adulthood.

Recent research on depression and suicide in college students has begun to raise the public's awareness of the issue. For example, the American College Health Association in 2000 reported that 10 percent of college students -- 12.8 percent of women and 6.2 percent of men -- had been diagnosed with depression sometime in their lives. A 2002 national survey found that more than 80 percent of the 274 directors of campus counseling centers surveyed said they thought the number of students with severe psychological disorders had risen over the last five years.

Experts suspect that the college years are an especially vulnerable time for students prone to depression because of a potent mix of the hormonal and neurological changes of late adolescence, and the stressors of college life. These stressors include independent living, new social situations, increased academic demands, financial responsibilities, and increased awareness of sexual identity and orientation.

University of Michigan Health System

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