While I won't go so far as to say that my college years were the best of my life, it's a period I remember fondly. Except for the two dark holes of depression I that I recall all too well. One occurred when I was expelled for one semester and the other reared its ugly head in my last semester of college. At that point, in the early 1980s, there was very little discussion of depression, and no one at my college knew what was happening in my life.
Depression has been on the rise among college students in the past two decades. One factor is very likely earlier diagnosis and improvements in antidepressants that enable young people with mental illness to function at a higher level. In the past, those young people might not have made it to college at all. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 prompted educational institutions to become more accessible to students with mental illness. As long as students can meet the school's academic standards, colleges, especially ones that accept federal aid, must provide accommodations for students who battle mental illness, which might include lighter courseloads or extra time to finish assignments and take exams.
College brings with it many different types of stress – and many that a student has not encountered before. The freedom that young adults find in college can be exhilarating, but it can also be terrifying. For the first time, young people don't have a parental safety net to protect them from making poor decisions, and they alone bear responsibility for the consequences. For some this is a positive step towards adulthood, but for others it brings an enormous amount of stress.
The increased academic pressure weighs heavily on many students, not only because courses tend to be tougher than high school, but also because failure is much more expensive, and the consequences much greater. When I failed two courses and was expelled, it ended up costing my parents thousands of dollars. I got back into my college and subsequently made Dean's List, but I was very much aware of the price of failing my courses after that.