In recent years, anxiety has replaced depression as the No. 1 mental health concern for college students. Anxiety statistics tell a tale of anxiety symptoms run rampant on campus, as students are forced to deal with academic pressures and life challenges that are stretching them to the breaking point.
If your child is currently in college or headed there soon, you need to know the truth about what is happening on campuses across the country, and how your son or daughter could easily be affected by this burgeoning epidemic of anxiety.
Student Anxiety by the Numbers
Two large-scale studies have confirmed the facts about anxiety among college students: it is a serious issue that is having a negative impact on the lives of millions of young people.
The 2015 National College Assessment Survey, sponsored by the American College Health Association (ACHA), and the 2016 annual report from Penn State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health have each divulged important details about runaway anxiety among college students.
The Penn State study, which collected data from more than 100,000 young people who were treated at student health centers across the country, found that 61% had reported anxiety as one of their major health concerns. Tellingly, several of the other commonly cited concerns by students seeking psychological intervention (depression, relationship problems, family troubles, academic performance, stress, adjustment to a new environment, self-esteem/self-confidence issues) are contributors to anxiety and could be implicated in the development of anxiety disorders among youth (18% of the U.S. adult population suffers from at least one of these conditions).
In the ACHA study, data was also obtained from the general student population and not just those who’d sought treatment at campus mental health clinics. In this survey 56.9% of students reported feelings of overwhelming anxiety sometime in the past year, and exactly one-third of students reported experiencing those feelings within the previous month.
In the same survey, 53.5% of students described feeling “more than average” or “tremendous” stress within the past 12 months, and overall 15.8% (almost exactly one in six) said they’d been treated for serious anxiety within that same 12-month period.
Causes of Student Anxiety
College has always been a pressure-packed environment. But in the present climate it seems students are feeling more emotionally and psychologically overburdened than ever before.
Campus anxiety statistics all verify an increase in student anxiety in recent years, and mental health experts have offered a number of potential explanations for the current numbers and the increase in anxiety they reveal.
Possible reasons for the anxiety outbreak include:
- Changes in academic standards that emphasize performance on frequent high-pressure tests.
- Concerns about the sagging economy and poor future job prospects for college graduates.
- Financial pressures caused by student/family debt and the skyrocketing costs of a university education.
- Extensive involvement in the often stressful and bully-enabling social media environment.
- Higher rates of depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD and other mental health conditions among young people (these disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders).
In the past there was less awareness about the nature and frequency of mental health problems on campus. There was also a stigma about mental health disorders that may have prevented many students from asking for help.
Thankfully the situation has changed dramatically over the last 10 to 20 years, and a higher percentage of students are now seeking treatment on campus for their anxiety disorders and other types of mental health issues.
Anxiety Is a Fact of Life on College Campuses, But Lives Can Be Changed
Young people are experts at hiding their true feelings from parents and other adult family members, so you shouldn’t assume everything is fine with your son or daughter just because they show no outward signs of distress.
If your child is in college, the chances are better than even that stress and anxiety are taking a toll on their health and welfare. Therefore it isn’t wise to wait until there is some obvious sign that reveals the truth.
You should talk to them right away about this issue and encourage them to be open and honest about their feelings and experiences. If they admit they’ve been struggling with anxiety, tell them that resources are available through their university’s health department and that they don’t have to suffer in silence any longer.
American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, Spring 2015 Reference Group Executive Summary
Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2016 Annual Report