Enhancing depression screening to identify college students at risk for persistent depressive symptoms

J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.11.025. Epub 2014 Nov 24.


Background: Depressive symptoms in college students are prevalent and are associated with considerable academic impairment. Many universities have implemented depressive symptom screening programs and the number of students identified as in need of services following screening greatly exceeds available mental health resources. The present study sought to refine depressive symptom screening programs by identifying predictors of a persistent course of depressive symptoms and developing cut-scores for accurately identifying students who will experience a persistent symptom course.

Method: Students (n=262) who reported elevated depressive symptoms both an initial screening and baseline assessment (n=150) were invited to participate in telephone-based follow-up assessments 4, 8, and 12 months post-baseline.

Results: Two depressive symptom courses were identified: a persistently elevated depressive symptoms course and a decreasing depressive symptoms course. Baseline social disconnection and negative feedback-seeking both significantly predicted membership in the persistently elevated depressive symptoms course. Cut-scores that robustly discriminated between the two symptom courses were identified.

Limitations: The present sample was predominantly female and Hispanic; the four-month spacing of assessments may have resulted in a failure to identify individuals who experience brief, yet impairing, recurrent depressive episodes.

Conclusion: These findings can inform approaches to identifying college students most in need of mental health services for depressive symptoms based on the presence of social disconnection and/or negative feedback-seeking. Screening cut-points on social disconnection and negative feedback-seeking measures can reduce the number of cases identified as needing mental health services while retaining the majority of cases who will experience a persistent depressive symptom course.

Keywords: College student; Depression; Latent class growth analysis; Screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Mass Screening* / trends
  • Mental Health Services
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Isolation
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult