A welter of recent Iranian studies have shed light on the alarming prevalence of depression among young people in the country. The latest of these is a police report which acknowledged the scope of the problem in the Iranian youth and student populations.
The underlying factors behind this worrisome trend are complex and multi-faceted. Despite this, officials of the Islamic Republic have persisted in taking an ideological and securitized view of the problem – one that leads, in turn, to the intensification of young people’s despair.
A significant number of students in Iran suffer from depression, with some study centers estimating the proportion of those affected at between 25 and 41 percent.
Research hubs and mental health institutions have pointed to a complex web of factors that are aggravating the situation. One of the most important, they say, is the sense of “insecurity” young people feel due to economic, social and political ills ravaging the country.
A recently-published study in the police-affiliated Law Enforcement and Security journal found that back in 2004, some 79.5 percent of people in provincial urban centers of Iran had reported feeling “insecure”. By 2005, the recorded figure had reached 93.1 percent.
These figures date back to a time when the problems Iran was facing were not as severe as they are today. Now in 2021, the study found, some 48 percent of students at universities and scientific centers in Ilam province alone reported suffering from depression.
Of the 384 students surveyed in Ilam, the study found that 34.4 percent had experienced mild depression, 12.2 percent of students reported moderate depression and 1.3 percent were suffering from severe depression.
The study also asked students to rate their overall feelings of security. It found that 63.8 percent of students felt insecure in their lives in general, with 44.2 percent reported insecurity due to financial issues, 48.7 percent due to political pressure, 58.1 percent from “moral factors” and 19.6 percent due to issues they classed as psychological.
Students were also asked about their overarching sense of social security, considered one of the most important values in the survey. The vast majority of students at universities in Ilam said they felt only a low to moderate level of social security.
There is thought to be a significant relationship between feeling insecure and susceptibility to depression. The results of another study on the correlation between "insecurity" and "depression" among students in Ilam, published in 2015, showed a clear correlation between the two issues.
Another police study in Markazi province, published in 2018, also corroborated the findings of this study and found that depression among students in this province was clearly related to "feeling socially insecure".
Many other studies published in Iran in recent years have assessed the state of all known mental health indicators as dire. But at the same time, these social ills have come to be seen more and more through an ideological and security lens by the ruling authorities. Notably, officials of the Islamic Republic have also been reluctant to publish statistics on other related social issues, such as drug abuse and self-harm.
A small minority of Iranian students with good education and financial backing will be able to leave Iran and build a bright future for themselves overseas. But not all students can do this, and many are reluctant to emigrate, for complex reasons. With economic and political constraints now almost ubiquitous, many are afflicted by feelings of despair.