THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Among students who go to university health centers for a physical ailment, between one-fifth and one-quarter are depressed, but the condition often goes undiagnosed because most university health centers don't screen for depression, a new study reports.

The researchers also found that 2 to 3 percent of these depressed students have had suicidal thoughts or are considering suicide.

"Depression screening is easy to do, we know it works, and it can save lives. It should be done for every student who walks into a health center," lead author Dr. Michael Fleming, a professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

Fleming and his colleagues surveyed 1,622 students who went to health centers at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia. The study findings are published in the January issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

Screening for depression is simple, Fleming said. While sitting in the health center waiting area, students can answer seven questions about depression that can be immediately entered into his or her electronic health record. During the appointment, the health care provider can address any issues about sadness or depression.

The consequences of not identifying and treating students with depression can be serious and even deadly.

"These kids might drop out of school because they are so sad, or hurt or kill themselves by drinking too much or taking drugs," Fleming said.

He noted that university students face many challenges, and events such as a low grade or problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend can trigger depression.

"If you don't take the opportunity to screen at every [health center] visit, you are going to miss these kids," Fleming said.

More information

Mental Health America has more about depression in college.