First-of-its-Kind Effort to Voluntarily Screen College Students for Depression

UCLA screening is part of a landmark effort to ease nation’s mental health burden

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(LOS ANGELES) – More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, a serious mental health burden that often first appears in young adulthood. In response, UCLA has launched a campus-wide initiative called the Depression Grand Challenge to radically transform how we treat this crippling disease, starting with voluntary screening of UCLA’s own students.

    “Every incoming student this fall was offered an online mental health assessment, and this has immediately helped us identify those who would benefit from treatment,” said Nelson Freimer, MD, Director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “From there, it’s about understanding the causes of depression and finding treatments that work for each individual.”

    Since September, more than 2,600 students have opted to complete the volunteer online screenings.  Students whose screenings results showed they were at risk of suicide, severe depression or other serious mental health problems received follow-up and were offered access to treatment at UCLA.

    More than 100 UCLA faculty members from over 20 academic departments are working on uncovering the biological causes of depression and developing innovative treatments that leverage new technology and tap into the expertise of scientific experts across campus.

    “These interventions are long overdue. Depression is the leading cause of disability, and there hasn’t been enough done to try to alleviate the burden on those suffering from it,” said Jonathan Flint, MD, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Brain Research Institute. “What’s unique about what UCLA is doing is that neuroscientists, economists, engineers and experts from many other disciplines are working together toward a solution.”

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A landmark initiative to battle depression has focused initially on helping identify and treat students at risk of depression and other mental health disorders at UCLA. Researchers are exploring the biological causes of depression and developing new treatments to battle the disease from every angle. The long-term goal is to reduce the burden of depression by half by 2050.

Janik Shah, a UCLA senior and student counselor in the university’s Peer Resilience Network, reviews the online mental health evaluation offered on a voluntary basis to every student. By identifying students with depressive symptoms and monitoring their progress, researchers hope to find the right interventions for each patient.

Dr. Nelson Freimer is leading UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge, a first-of-its-kind initiative bringing together more than 100 faculty members from over 20 academic departments to better understand the causes of depression and develop better treatments.

Dr. Jonathan Flint, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, is working with more than 100 other researchers at UCLA to discover the causes of depression and develop effective treatments, an effort that begins with the university’s students.