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A survey carried out this summer showed that 20% of university students say they would like to die…this was highlighted in an Oct 19th Japan Today article entitled “20% of Tokyo university students want to die“.
The NPO that carried out the survey said it believes the statistics are related to job-hunting failures and rejections.
While I thought this statement and article pointed out the obvious triggers for depression: the job-hunting stress and the fear of rejection and failure, the statement and the article were neither helpful nor informative as to real underlying causes of the depression, and might unwitting lead to a kind of public stigma and prejudice against society’s brightest minds.
What the authorities, administrators of higher educational institutions and all of those involved in supporting young people on the verge of joining mainstream adult society, need to realize is that the occurrence of depression or mental disorders is not unique to Tokyo University students(or other J-college students, or to Japanese students), nor should it be understood as abnormal, if we rightly understand what researchers are saying.
Lately, a series of studies and articles have pointed out a connection between creative, intellectual and analytical minds, and their tendencies towards depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders. See Depression’s evolutionary roots; Link between creativity and mental illness confirmed; Schizotypy and mental health amongst poets, visual artists and mathematicians; Do you have to be nuts to be a genius?; Why (some) psychopaths make great CEOs and 11 Historical Geniuses and Their Possible Mental Disorders
From the research, we are told that the depression may be biological adaptation connected to a molecule in the brain called the 5H1A receptor, and we are urged to consider the
“possibility: that, in most instances, depression should not be thought of as a disorder at all. In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.
One reason to suspect that depression is an adaptation, not a malfunction, comes from research into a molecule in the brain known as the 5HT1A receptor. The 5HT1A receptor binds to serotonin, another brain molecule that is highly implicated in depression and is the target of most current antidepressant medications. Rodents lacking this receptor show fewer depressive symptoms in response to stress, which suggests that it is somehow involved in promoting depression. (Pharmaceutical companies, in fact, are designing the next generation of antidepressant medications to target this receptor.) When scientists have compared the composition of the functional part rat 5HT1A receptor to that of humans, it is 99 percent similar, which suggests that it is so important that natural selection has preserved it. The ability to “turn on” depression would seem to be important, then, not an accident.” — Scientific American article, “Depression’s evolutionary roots“
Thus, with a regard to the survey indicating depression amongst Tokyo University students, who are equated with Japan’s brightest minds, instead of stigmatizing or negatively viewing such tendencies towards depression and mental illness, we should seek to understand why society’s so-called creme de la creme might also the most likely ones to be wanting to throw themselves in front of an oncoming train, so that society might better help them. People often wonder how such supposedly brilliant minds that are capable of solving highly complex mathematical, scientific or other problems … can show such stupid or irrational behaviour, display an inability to cope with daily routine tasks, or such a lack of common sense, or why they should be so incapable of finding solutions to the infinitely less convoluted conundrums of daily life.
Well, an article in the Psychological Review explains the seeming deficit in what might be called wisdom or common sense in this way:
“Analysis is often a useful approach for solving complex problems, but it requires slow, sustained processing, so disruption would interfere with problem solving. The analytical rumination hypothesis proposes that depression is an evolved response to complex problems. whose function is to minimize disruption and sustain analysis of those problems by (a) giving the triggering problem prioritized access to processing resources, (b) reducing the desire to engage in distracting activities (anhedonia), and (c) producing psychomotor changes that reduce exposure to distracting stimuli. As processing resources are limited, sustained analysis of the triggering problem reduces the ability to concentrate on other things.”
In other words, brilliant minds like to be totally absorbed in working on their puzzles and projects, but in doing so, sacrifice all the brainpower they’ve got, and as a result, show a deficit of any more capacity for thinking or concentrating on other issues, whether this might involve finding a lost sock, or dealing with a breakup with a girlfriend, etc.
Psychology researchers Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson Jr. note that in this connection, depression can pose a worse problem for such brilliant creative or intellectual minds:
“Depressed people often have trouble performing everyday activities, they can’t concentrate on their work, they tend to socially isolate themselves, they are lethargic, and they often lose the ability to take pleasure from such activities such as eating and sex. Some can plunge into severe, lengthy, and even life-threatening bouts of depression.
So what could be so useful about depression? Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.
Genius comes in all shapes and forms, from those with a creative bent in the arts – writers, painters and musicians – to those grounded in the sciences – physicists, matematicians and philosophers.
Geniuses are defined as individuals of high intellect who possess exceptional creativity and are capable of original thought. But they are also often obsessive, depressive, compulsive, introverted or manic.
And are these behaviours within the normal spectrum – albeit occasionally at the extreme end – or do they indicate an underlying neurological malfunction that might be a factor in their genius?
THE PERCEIVED LINK between genius and mental illness isn’t just coincidence: it extends from observations made centuries ago. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle asked, “Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic?”
More recently, 19th century Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso theorised that a man of genius was essentially a degenerate whose madness was a form of evolutionary compensation for excessive intellectual development.
Mental illness, by the very phrasing of the term, has long had negative connotations, and can be very destructive for the sufferer and for those around them. But things are not always black and white: having a mental illness can actually prove a boon.
Affective disorders, including bipolar disorder – also known as manic depressive illness – are believed to have contributed to the creation of some of history’s most lauded poems, novels, artworks, discoveries and original ideas.
More recently, a number of history’s most brilliant minds have been retrospectively diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a high functioning form of autism characterised by narrow interests and ‘workaholism’. In fact, some researchers believe that these two types of mental illness might confer traits that are conducive to genius” – Do you have to be nuts to be a genius?”
While the last decade brought the spotlight on younger child and teen prodigies, so that society became aware of the need to give special care and attention to the gifted young (see Depressive Disorder in Highly Gifted Adolescents), not much awareness is known about the above-discussed mental problems of society’s clever and brilliant young adult students.
Administrators and authorities in charge of the nation’s higher education ought to begin dedicating more resources with properly trained and educated psychologists, psychiatrists as counselors who might properly understand the nature of the problems of our young people to better treat and help them. Another study also showed that “different domains of creativity require different cognitive profiles, with poetry and art associated with divergent thinking, schizophrenia and affective disorder, and mathematics associated with convergent thinking and autism.”
And society ought to act sooner than later, there is also evidence to show that once the highly intelligent get into trouble, the severity of the trouble high IQ individuals get into and the crimes they commit, tends to be far worse than that of normal individuals.
Family members and parents might want to educate themselves to be more emotionally supportive of their brilliant children as they work towards graduating college and embark on new careers. Oftentimes, parents with their high expectations of payback from years of grooming and supporting their seemingly brilliant and successful young, are anxious to push them out of the nest, towards adult routines and responsibilities, and who being in the dark about the darker dysfunctional sides of their children’s brilliant minds, can unwittingly contribute to the innate depressive (or psychopathic) triggers. And because these seemingly smart people are supposed to be smart, they can get more flack for their mistakes or for underperformance according to expectations. Unfortunately, what families and society are failing to realize, is that even young brilliant minds and geniuses need emotional support, listening ears and helpful positive advice to facing their more mundane problems and puzzles of life. Perhaps… even more hand-holding is required for the clever set than the usual amount required for normal people.
In the light of the foregoing, the more strait-laced-than-most Japanese society, that can be so often intolerant of deviant behaviour from the norms, had better wise up to the facts about intelligent people, and brace themselves to accept a small measure of madness and instability in its best and brightest young minds.
20% of Tokyo university students want to die, NPO survey suggests
Japan Today Oct 19, 2013
Tormented by the difficulty of landing a position and unfair practices by prospective employers, 1 in 5 college students contemplate suicide during the job-hunting process, a poll of 122 students conducted in July by the nonprofit group Lifelink found.
The Tokyo-based group conducted two surveys, on 121 students in March and 122 in July, on the stress associated with the job hunt, spurred by recent government statistics pointing to a marked increase in suicides among people in their 20s. Only the students in July were asked about suicide.
According to National Police Agency statistics on suicides in 2012, the total number of suicides in Japan has shown a downward trend over the last 15 years, dipping below the 30,000 mark for the first time last year to stand at 27,858.
However, the number among people in their 20s has gone up since the late 1990s, numbering 3,000 in 2012.
“Failures in job hunting” accounted for 149 suicides among people in their 20s last year, 2½ times the rate in 2007.
Released Friday, the Lifelink poll, which covered people in four-year universities, graduate schools and vocational colleges, found that students have a strong distrust of firms in Japan and of Japanese society overall, yet have a burning desire to get full-time employment after college.
Sixty-nine percent said Japan is a society where honesty and hard work are not rewarded, while 97 percent said they want to become full-time employees after graduation.
Eighty percent of those surveyed said they felt a strong sense of anxiety during their job search, with many citing the fear of not getting an offer from the firm of their first choice, and of “getting left behind” by their peers.
Adding to their stress is the often unfair treatment by companies. Some firms, the students found, secretly gave more opportunities to students from certain high-ranking universities while officially touting a “no-college-name-asked” hiring policy.
Students often rely on friends, social media and Internet bulletin boards for tips on job hunting, but they also suffer from a sense of exasperation and isolation when their job search doesn’t go smoothly in comparison with their peers, said Lifelink founder Yasuyuki Shimizu.
“These problems lead to greater issues after they get jobs,” Shimizu said. “They have a strong sense of distrust of society to begin with, which leads them to think they must have full-time employment to defend themselves. When they are able to become full-time employees (right out of college), they feel as if they must put up with anything to hold onto that job. And others who couldn’t get full-time employment are driven to think they are worthless.
Why (some) psychopaths make great CEOs (Forbes, 6/14/2011)
Depression’s evolutionary roots (Scientific American, Aug 25 2009)