Going off to college is a major life event for a teenager. For many it is the first time away from home for an extended period of time. In a way, going to college and living on campus is like a first step toward living without your parents and toward becoming an adult in the world. Most college students can still go home during the holidays, between semesters or even on some weekends, but otherwise are on their own.
The pressures and stresses that accompany this life-changing time, as well as the rigors of academic life, the looming student loan debts and the fears of being unable to find work, can be overwhelming. Unsurprisingly, mental health services are provided and used at most universities. In fact, many schools are seeing a spike in students asking for help for mental health concerns.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety disorders are on the rise in America among many age groups. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with one of these mental health problems, but college students across the board are increasingly likely to have either or both. Of all the complaints brought to counseling centers on university campuses in the U.S., anxiety accounts for around 40 percent and depression for over 35 percent.
Depression is a common mental illness, but it is also very serious and requires treatment. Extended feelings of sadness and anxiousness that interfere with daily life mark clinical depression. It is normal to have these feelings occasionally, especially in college when there are so many stresses and pressures, but they should pass within a day or two. When these feelings just can’t be shaken, depression may be the appropriate diagnosis.
Anxiety disorders, which include generalized anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety, are also serious, but treatable. Events that commonly occur at college, such as a failed exam, bills to pay or a failed relationship, can trigger anxiety attacks. Occasional worry and anxiety is to be expected, but chronic and unshakeable feelings of anxiety and worry are not normal.
Statistics from a number of sources prove that more and more college students are suffering from anxiety disorders, depression and other mental health issues. Some schools, like Michigan State University, report increased numbers of students seeking mental health support services on campus. The counseling center on the East Lansing campus says that their caseload has increased by 76 percent over five years and that they now have around 3,000 students seeking services each year.
The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors conducted a survey and found that 95 percent of directors of counseling centers on campuses have seen increased numbers of students seeking services. Most students seek help for anxiety or depression, but a significant number also look for help when they experience relationship problems. Close to 70 percent of the directors stated that severe psychological problems are increasing on their campuses, and account for around 20 percent of cases.
An academic study confirmed the reports from campus counseling centers. Researchers looked at counseling records from 1997 and 2009 to see if there had been increases in services provided and mental illnesses treated. The number of students with at least one diagnosis rose by 3 percent. Diagnoses of severe depression increased even more, and the number of students with more than one diagnosis went from 3 percent to 40 percent.
With a proven rise in mental health diagnoses and treatment on college campuses, services offered on campus should also be increasing. The National Alliance on Mental Illness conducted a nationwide survey of college students regarding mental health and services on campus. The survey concluded that most universities are stepping up to the problem and increasing the amount of support available. They are also working to increase awareness. The support services will not help students if they are not aware that the help is there.
In spite of the increase in services, many students with mental health issues still feel that support could be improved on campus. The respondents of the survey feel stigmatized and find it difficult to reach out and ask for help. They would like to see their colleges offer more awareness to faculty and students so that mental health becomes a topic of discussion. With more awareness, better services, and a reduction in stigma, more college students will get the help they need.