Anxiety Surpasses Depression as Most Common College Mental Health Issue

Anxious student
Anxiety is now the most common issue that brings students to the Office of Student Life Counseling at Ohio State University. It’s been that way for four years. Before that, depression was the most common issue at the university counseling center.

Director of the college’s counseling center Micky Sharma said in PBS News Hour special in September 2015 that anxiety is getting farther ahead of depression as a concern each year.

“We have students in this generation that are working and growing up in a very fast-paced society. There are additional stressors, more things that they’re carrying on their shoulders,” said Sharma. “And there’s an increase in the anxiety that we see in students.”

The increase in anxiety, in addition to depression and other mental health issues, along with the decreasing stigma attached to seeking help, are bringing a flood of students to college counseling services across the U.S.

A series of articles titled, “Epidemic of Anguish” in Fall 2015 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that, “rates of anxiety and depression among American college students have soared in the last decade, and many more students than in the past come to campus already on medication for such illnesses. The number of students with suicidal thoughts has risen as well.”

The “Epidemic of Anguish” reported that colleges are trying to meet the demand by hiring more counselors, creating group-therapy sessions, and having mental-health coordinators who help students manage their own care.

“A couple of colleges have even installed mental-health kiosks, which look like ATMs and allow students to get a quick screening for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress,” the report said.

A major concern is that, “…there is no consistent, nationwide standard of mental-health care on campuses,” said Victor Schwartz, medical director of the Jed Foundation, which promotes emotional health among college students.

Underlying the concern about meeting the demand for counseling is the question, “Are college students more troubled than they used to be?”

“Epidemic of Anguish,” points to a paper by Dan Jones, director of the counseling center at Appalachian State University, where he said some of the increased demand is likely a result of, “mass shootings in 2007 and 2008 by mentally ill students at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, respectively, which prompted many colleges to cast a wider net to identify troubled students — and send them to the counseling center. Campuses now have threat-assessment teams to watch for disturbed students.”

Jones, who is past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, said, “Students do seem less resilient today than in the past. They haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”

Experts also say students are under greater pressure to build a resume starting in high school by earning top grades, spending hours practicing with athletic teams and perfecting extracurricular skills.”

And who can ignore the horrific events, like the mass murder of nine people and the wounding of nine others, at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon on Oct. 1? The unspoken threat that lurks at colleges, as well as movie theaters, shopping malls or just about any public place, must add to overall anxiety in our nation and in communities around the world.

 

Anxiety

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. But anxiety disorders can cause a person to have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.

Anxiety can make someone:

  • Feel nervous
  • Feel powerless
  • Have a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Experience rapid breathing
  • Sweat
  • Tremble
  • Feel weak or tired
  • Have trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

Medication may be prescribed for anxiety after a thorough evaluation by a medical professional.

One common treatment for anxiety is psychotherapy, or talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches a person new skills to enable a return to activities they’ve avoided because of anxiety.

BETA blogs about anxiety with tips for self-help and treatment options:

Techniques to Handle Anxiety or Chronic Worry
Breathing as a Coping Strategy During Panic Attacks
Anxiety Treatment with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – Video
10 Tips to Ward Off Anxiety
Anxiety Disorders: How to Identify, How to Help

 
References:

PBS News Hour, “More Stress, Less Stigma Drives College Students to Mental Health Services,” Sept. 2, 2015

Wilson, Robin, “Epidemic of Anguish,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Fall 2015.

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