Mental Illness Cases Higher in College Age Students
College students are typically considered to be healthy, strong and unfazed by the more serious difficulties of life. Students, however, are a subset of the larger population and are affected by the same illnesses, accidents and dysfunctions that everyone else is.
There is one exception: College-age students are traditionally more susceptible to the onset of mental and emotional disorders than the rest of the population. Why this is so has never been specifically pinpointed, but the combination of naturally occurring neurological changes in the brain at this critical age along with the growing awareness of existential worries, as well as the cumulative effects of previous trauma and loss, seem to have a strong cause-and-effect relationship.
Historically, the percentage of students dealing with mental health issues has remained constant; however, in the last decade, researchers have noticed a spike in the number of college students dealing with mental health issues.
“Severe mental illness is more common among college students than it was a decade ago, with more young people arriving on campus with pre-existing conditions and a willingness to seek help for emotional distress,” according to the American Psychological Association. “The rise in the more severe cases of depression and anxiety in college students may be because more students are coming to college with pre-existing mental health difficulties.”
Improved diagnosis, assessment, earlier intervention and a decreased stigma toward mental illness account for some of the increase in mental illness among students, according to a report by Ruth Harper and Meghan Peterson.
“Based on research data from here, over the last 10 years we routinely find 1 in 5 college students have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, and 1 in 4 have a diagnosable mood disorder,” said Dr. Nate Williams, associate professor of psychology at the UA.
The numbers disprove the myth that college students have led a sheltered life.
“We consistently find that between one-fourth to one-third of college females have been sexually assaulted,” Williams said. “That’s staggering.”
Additionally, mental health and wellness issues have a definite cause-and-effect relationship with students’ academic performance and progress through school, Williams said.
“Mental health issues definitely affect retention and graduation rates,” Williams said. Some students drop out, while others may take a medical leave to recover and return to school at a later date.
Severe mental illness is a broad category that includes psychological stress beyond the everyday blues, anxieties or compulsions. A variety of conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, eating and self-harm disorders, PTSD, ADHD, compulsions, and addictions, can manifest and seriously affect an individual’s mood, cognition and everyday responsibilities to the point of needing medical attention. These conditions are not to be taken lightly and should be viewed as any other serious medical disorder like cancer, diabetes or influenza.
Students who feel in psychological distress can seek medical treatment from a qualified provider. On the UA campus, students can access a complete range of psychological services at Pat Walker Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) clinic. The CAPS clinic has trained staff who provide both individual and group counseling services.
Students are encouraged to be proactive in managing their mental wellness, and to see a professional as soon as possible if a condition is affecting their mood or behavior.