The Internet has become an integral part of the lives of college students. The Internet generation, having come of age during the advent of the Internet, has changed the way people interact. Instant messaging, blogs, Facebook.com and MySpace.com have become daily activities of typical student social life.
Now, many organizations and universities have realized that the Internet can be used for a more serious aspect of college life: depression.
As much as technology has changed the academic and social landscape of a university and its residents, the stressors and potential risks of psychological problems have not changed for college students, particularly depression.
According to Temple psychology professors Lauren B. Alloy and Joseph Wolpe, college-aged students are at a major period of risk in their lives. “The rates of clinical depression begin to increase beginning in early adolescence, ages 13 to 14, and then really start to skyrocket between ages 15 to 18, especially for girls, and then they continue to climb slowly into early adulthood.”
In addition to the already high risk levels that come with age, there are new stressors in college that can trigger depression.
“Much research indicates that depressive episodes are frequently triggered by stressful events,” Alloy said. “If things don’t go well in some of [the new areas of college life], the college student could experience important stressors that could trigger depression if they are susceptible.” Alloy said that there is also evidence suggesting that irregular schedules of eating and sleeping can contribute to depression.
The Internet is a valuable tool in battling depression for many reasons, but the most important reason is the anonymity the Internet provides. There has always been a stigma around seeking help for psychological problems, said Ron Gibori, director of Ulifeline, an online mental health resource. Regardless of age, people often feel that receiving counseling is a sign that a person is different or weird.
“It’s the last uncharted social taboo,” Gibori said. “There’s such a lack of awareness and education. Everyone deals with stresses in their lives, but no one ever talks about how it is affecting them.”
Temple’s own Tuttleman Counseling Services has recognized the uncomfortableness surrounding seeking psychological help. According to John DiMino, director of Tuttleman Counseling Services, in addition to the face-to-face services TCS provides, such as holding the yearly National Depression Screening Day, the center also offers anonymous online alternatives.
“We advertise our online screening for mental health link on the front page of our Web site,” DiMino said. “We have been able to screen many hundreds of students using this approach.” The TCS Web site also offers links to other Web resources and virtual pamphlets.
Non-university organizations have also taken advantage of the Internet to reach at-risk students. The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce college-aged suicides and improve mental health support for students everywhere, founded Ulifeline, at www.ulifeline.org.
Ulifeline is one of the most comprehensive Web sites for mental health resources and has everything from where to find counseling resources near you to a self evaluator to mental health and drug databases. The site also features a thorough question and answer forum called “Go Ask Alice!” for college students that covers all aspects of college life both serious and humorous.
“The whole point of the Web site is making you realize that all mental illnesses are treatable and that there are resources available for you to get help,” Gibori said. The Jed Foundation was founded by Phil and Donna Satow in 2000 after their son, Jed, committed suicide.
While online resources are a great way to get started, students should remember that it is only the first step on the way to good mental health.
“I think our online screening and educational materials are a good service. However, I am against any form of online ‘counseling,'” DiMino said. “There are a great many things that a counselor attends to in a face-to-face session that can’t be attended to online, such as general appearance, body language, tone of voice, etc.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among college students and is also responsible for more deaths among teenagers and young adults than all medical illnesses combined.
Ryan Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.