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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Depression, desperation, and suicidal ideation in college students: results from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention College Screening Project at Emory University

Steven J Garlow, Jill Rosenberg, J David Moore, Ann P Haas, Bethany Koestner, Herbert Hendin, Charles B Nemeroff
Depression and Anxiety 2008, 25 (6): 482-8
17559087
The objective of this investigation was to examine suicidal ideation and depression in undergraduate college students who participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention-sponsored College Screening Project at Emory University. The principal measure of depressive symptoms was the nine-item depression module from the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Additional questions were focused on current suicidal ideation, past suicide attempts, and episodes of deliberate self-harm and on symptoms of anxiety and distress. Seven hundred and twenty-nine students participated over a 3-school-year interval (2002-2005). Most notably, 11.1% of the students endorsed current (past 4 weeks) suicidal ideation and 16.5% had a lifetime suicide attempt or self-injurious episode. Students with current suicidal ideation had significantly higher depression symptom severity than those without suicidal ideation (t = -9.34, df = 706, P<.0001, d = 1.9), and 28.5% of the students with PHQ-9 scores of 15 or higher reported suicidal ideation compared to 5.7% of those with lower scores (chi(2) = 56.29, df = 1, P<.0001, two-tailed). Suicidal ideation was prominently associated with symptoms of desperation (odds ratio 2.6, 95% CI 1.5-4.6, P<.001). The vast majority of students with moderately severe to severe depression (85%) or current suicidal ideation (84%) were not receiving any psychiatric treatment at the time of assessment. These results suggest that there is a strong relationship between severity of depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in college students, and that suicidal feelings and actions are relatively common in this group. This underscores the need to provide effective mental health outreach and treatment services to this vulnerable population. As this analysis was based on data collected at a single institution, the results may not be representative of all college students or young adults.

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