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Nearly 1/3 of Washington students struggle with depression and anxiety, study says

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SEATTLE -- Nearly one-third of Washington college students have experienced depression in the last year, and more than 12 percent had suicidal thoughts, according to a first-of-its-kind survey of young adults attending schools around the state.

The survey asked more than 10,000 students at 13 of Washington’s two and four-year institutions questions regarding stress, depression and anxiety.

Among the survey’s findings in Washington for the 2016/17 school year:

  • 31 percent of students reported any depression in the past two weeks; 14 percent reported major depression;
  • 26 percent reported any anxiety;
  • 12 percent reported having suicidal thoughts, while 5 percent reported having a plan to end their life;
  • Of those who said they’d experienced major depression, severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts, 60 percent had sought treatment in the past year;
  • 76 percent reported some academic difficulties due to emotional or mental health issues in the past four weeks.

Advocates say the results show a need for mental health services on campus, especially as the state Legislature considers two bills that would fund suicide-prevention resources in higher education (HB 2513) and additional mental health counselors for college students who are veterans (HB 1737).

“Nearly 4 out of 5 college students report that emotional distress impacts their academic performance,” said Jennifer Stuber, a University of Washington associate professor of social work and co-founder of Forefront Suicide Prevention. “During this major transition time in the lives of students, it is important to provide them with counseling and other types of support for emotional distress to ensure they can set a healthy course, flourishing academically, athletically and socially.”

Nationally, the data for that year are similar. For example, 11 percent of college students reported having suicidal thoughts; 24 percent reported any anxiety; and 31 percent reported any depression.

“We want to help students develop healthy coping skills, resilience in the face of disappointment and life challenges, and enough awareness to know when they need help,” said Ellen Taylor, UW associate vice president for Student Life. “The JED program provides a solid framework for analyzing the data, determining next steps for each campus based on local and national trends, and the ability to measure impact down the road."

Here are the 13 public and private colleges that participated in the study: Seattle University, Whitworth University, Central Washington University, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and the UW Seattle, UW Bothell, UW Tacoma and Washington State University. Students were randomly chosen to participate; data for the new survey were obtained during the 2016-17 academic year.

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