The Rise and Fall of Depressive Symptoms and Academic Stress in Two Samples of University Students
Self-reported depressive experiences are common among university students. However, most studies assessing depression in university students are cross-sectional, limiting our understanding of when in the academic year risk for depression is greatest and when interventions may be most needed. We examined within-person change in depressive symptoms from September to April. Study 1 (N = 198; 57% female; 72% white; Mage = 18.4): Depressive symptoms rose from September, peaked in December, and fell across the second semester. The rise in depressive symptoms was associated with higher perceived stress in December. Study 2 (N = 267; 78.7% female; 67.87% white; Mage = 21.25): Depressive symptoms peaked in December and covaried within persons with perceived stress and academic demands. The results have implications for understanding when and for whom there is increased risk for depressive experiences among university students.
KeywordsDepressive symptoms Academic stress University students Longitudinal
All authors contributed to the development of the study concept. Study 1 design and data collection were the responsibility of N.L.G., A.L.H., and E.T.B. Study 2 design and data collection were the responsibility of E.T.B., A.L.H., and R.V.K. E.T.B. and A.L.H. performed the data analyses and drafted the Methods and Results sections. E.T.B. wrote the Introduction and Discussion sections. All co-authors provided critical revisions and approved the final version of the manuscript.
Study 1 was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada operating grant awarded to N.L.G. and J.L.M. Study 2 was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant awarded to E.T.B. and A.L.H.
Data Sharing Declaration
The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
These studies were conducted in compliance with ethical standards outlined by the Government of Canada’s Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Both studies were approved by their respective university research ethics review committees in accordance with the Government of Canada’s Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.
Informed consent was received from all participants who participated at each wave of measurement as per the Government of Canada’s Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.
- Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- American College Health Association. (2016). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Canadian Reference Group Executive Summary. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association.Google Scholar
- Asparouhov, T., & Muthén, B. (2010). Weighted least squares estimation with missing data. Mplus Technical Appendix, 2010, 1–10.Google Scholar
- Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory-II. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
- Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Department of Labor (2014). College Enrollment and Work Activity of2013 High School Graduates. Economic News Release. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm.
- Canadian Association of College & University Student Services and the Canadian Mental Health Association. (2013). Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach. Vancouver, BC: Author.Google Scholar
- Compas, B. E. (2004). Processes of risk and resilience during adolescence: Linking context and individuals. In R. M. Lerner, & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescence (2nd ed., pp. 263–296). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Curran, P. J., Lee, T., Howard, A. L., Lane, S., & MacCallum, R. (2012). Disaggregating within-person and between-person effects in multilevel and structural equation growth models. In J. R. Harring, & G. R. Hancock (Eds.), CILVR series on latent variable methodology. Advances in longitudinal methods in the social and behavioral sciences (pp. 217–253). Charlotte, NC: IAP Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
- Fisher, S., & Hood, B. (1987). The stress of the transition to university: A longitudinal study of psychological disturbance and vulnerability to homesickness. British Journal of Psychology, 78, 425–441. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1987.tb02260.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Galarneau, D., Marissette, R., & Usalcas, J. (2013). What has changed for young people in Canada? In Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11847-eng.htm.
- Goffin, P. (2017). ‘We’re not a treatment facility’: The struggle for campuses to provide students mental health care. The Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/08/13/were-not-a-treatment-facility-the-struggle-for-campuses-to-provide-students-mental-health-care.html.
- Harmon-Jones, E., Gable, P. A., & Price, T. F. (2013). Does negative affect always narrow and positive affect always broaden the mind? Considering the influence of motivational intensity on cognitive scope. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 301–307. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721413481353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
- Lunau, K. (2012). Campus crisis: the broken generation. Why so many of our best and brightest students report feeling hopeless, depressed, even suicidal. McLean’s Magazine. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/the-broken-generation/.
- Maroco, J., & Campos, J. A. D. B. (2012). Defining the student burnout construct: A structural analysis from three burnout inventories. Psychological Reports, 111, 814–830. https://doi.org/10.2466/14.10.20.PR0.111.6.814-830.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Mikolajczyk, R.T., Maxwell, A.E., Naydenova, V., Meier, S., & El Ansari, W. (2008). Depressive symptoms and perceived burdens related to being a student: Survey in three European countries. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1745-0179-4-19.
- Montgomery, M. J., & Côté, J. E. (2003). College as a transition to adulthood. In G. R. Adams & M. D. Berzonsky (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of adolescence (pp. 149–172). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B., & Alisat, S. (2004). Bridging troubled waters: Helping students make the transition from high school to university. Guidance and Counselling, 9, 184–190.Google Scholar
- Pearson, C., Janz, T., & Ali, J. (2013). Mental and substance use disorders in Canada. In Health at a Glance, Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11855-eng.htm.
- Raudenbush, S. W., Bryk, A. S., Cheong, Y. F., Congdon, R. T., & Du Toit, M. (2011). HLM 7. Lincolnwood, IL: Scientific Software International Inc.Google Scholar
- Rohde, P., Lewinsohn, P. M., Klein, D. N., Seeley, J. R., & Gau, J. M. (2012). Key characteristics of major depressive disorder occurring in childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, and adulthood. Clinical Psychological Science, 1, 41–53. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702612457599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sha, T., & Xia, L. (2004). Mediation effect of cognitive appraisal orientation on the relationship between stress and negative feelings in university students. Chinese Mental Health Journal, 18, 107–110.Google Scholar
- Shamsuddin, K., Fadzil, F., Wan Ismail, W. S., Shah, S. A., Omar, K., Muhammad, N. A., Jaffar, A., Ismail, A., & Mahadevan, R. (2013). Correlates of depression, anxiety and stress among Malaysian university students. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 6, 318–323. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2013.01.014.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Schulenberg, J. E., & Zarrett, N. R. (2006). Mental health during emerging adulthood: Continuity and discontinuity in courses, causes, and functions. In J. J. Arnett & J. Tanner (Eds.), Emerging Adults in America: Coming of Age in the 21st Century (pp. 135–72). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Twenge, J. M., Gentile, B., DeWall, C. N., Ma, D., Lacefield, K., & Schurtz, D. R. (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 145–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.10.005.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar