BU Today

Health & Wellness

Depression Screening Day Is Tomorrow on Both Charles River and Medical Campus

Help and resources are available and screening is confidential


Mental health has become one of the most pressing issues on college campuses across the globe. A recent study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that more than one-third of college freshmen in eight industrialized nations reported suffering from at least one mental health issue, with depression being the most common, followed by anxiety. A 2016-2017 Healthy Minds Study conducted by the University of Michigan found that 23 percent of BU students reported experiencing depression, 17 percent admitted to feeling anxiety at a level where it was difficult for them to function, and eight percent reported having had suicidal thoughts.

Those numbers worry Dori S. Hutchinson (Sargent’86,’95), director of services at BU’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. “We have work to do,” Hutchinson says. “This has to be a collective effort, empowering students to ask for help and to learn the skills they need to learn.”

As part of that collective effort, for the 11th year BU is holding free and confidential screenings for depression and anxiety tomorrow, Thursday, October 11, on both the Charles River and the Medical Campus as part of National Depression Screening Day. They are open to all students, faculty, and staff.

The screenings will be available at two locations on the Charles River Campus—the FitRec lobby and the George Sherman Union Link—and at the School of Public Health lobby on the Medical Campus. At the screenings, participants will be asked to take a three-minute questionnaire that can help gauge whether their stress level has become unhealthy or has moved into dangerous territory.

Last year, 439 people were screened at BU, an increase over the previous year’s 350, and nearly one-third (29 percent) tested positive for depression or anxiety. The goal is to ensure that those needing help get it and to educate students and other members of the BU community about the resources available to them.

Mental health can be challenging for college students in particular, for a variety of reasons. They are at an age when many psychiatric disorders typically emerge. Nearly half of all people diagnosed with mental illness have symptoms that begin at age 14, according to the American Psychiatric Association, and three-quarters are diagnosed by age 24. Experts also point to other factors, like students’ excessive use of social media, which, paradoxically, can make them feel more isolated and unhappy, poor eating and sleep habits, academic pressure, and use of prescription drugs like Ritalin or Adderall at exam time (both drugs have side effects that include anxiety and depression).

The cost of not seeking help can be high. One recent BU transfer student, who asked not to be identified, says the onset of her mental illness was hard to discern while she was juggling the rigorous demands of classes and a social life. Her mood swings worsened over time, from ecstatic happiness to paranoia and anxiety, her grades suffered, and she ultimately dropped out of the college where she was enrolled.

“When you leave college for mental health reasons, it’s extremely isolating,” she says. “If you’re going through one of the worst times of your life with anxiety and depression, to be sent home, to be alone, it’s not a great solution.”

Now 22, she enrolled last year in the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation’s NITEO program, which teaches young adults living with a mental health condition how to develop strategies and routines that help them regain their footing and return to college. Now a BU sophomore, she says she has been able to manage her mental health in part because she has a supportive community and a routine. She urges students who are struggling to reach out for help.

Hutchinson says part of the problem that some students face is that they are frequently not taken seriously when they voice their worries or problems. Professors or peers tell them to work out their stress or anxieties at FitRec, she says. Some students have told her that when they approach a professor about their concerns, they are told: “You don’t look like you’re struggling.” Student-athletes are also reluctant to admit their struggles because they’re worried about getting benched.

That culture needs to shift, she says.

“We invite students to live here, and we think it’s our job to be giving them the best food, a climbing wall, and opportunities for community service,” Hutchinson says. “Shouldn’t we be taking care of their mental health as well?”

National Depression Screening Day is designed to do just that, says Carrie Landa, Student Health Services associate director for clinical services and director of Behavioral Medicine.

“What often amazes me about this day is the way different departments from across campuses come together to support and engage in conversation about supporting mental health,” Landa says. “It truly demonstrates the way in which mental health and wellness is a shared campus responsibility.”

Depression screenings will be available tomorrow, October 11, at the GSU Link, 775 Comm Ave, from noon to 3 pm and 4 to 7 pm, and in the FitRec lobby, 915 Comm Ave, from 4 to 7 pm. On the Medical Campus, the screening will be in the School of Public Health Medical Instructional building lobby, 72 E. Concord St., from 4 to 7 pm. The screenings are free, confidential, and open to students, faculty, and staff.

Those interested in seeking confidential mental health counseling can contact Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, the Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders, the Samaritans of Boston suicide hotline, and BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance office.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megwj@bu.edu.

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