For most college students, the end of a summer brings a flood of new sources of stress. Fall move-in means no more lounging on the beach, no more sleeping in, no more Orange is the New Black marathons and much more work. We all recognize just a little too well how stressful college can be, but can forget how that stress impacts our mental health.
Many mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are triggered by shock, which is often evoked by environmental, emotional or physical changes. Returning to school in the fall, especially for first-year students, represents shifts in all three of these areas, making college students prime candidates for mental health disorders.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness said that although only 11 percent of college students have been diagnosed with anxiety and 10 percent with depression, more than 80 percent of college students have felt overwhelmed and 45 percent reported feelings of hopelessness. Furthermore, NAMI found that many of these cases of anxiety and depression resulted in a withdrawal from schooling — 64 percent of young adults who left college did so because of a mental health related reason.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests the risk is the same for non-students as it is for students.
“Almost half of college-aged individuals had a psychiatric disorder in the past year,” the study found. “The overall rate of psychiatric disorders was not different between college-attending individuals and their non–college-attending peers.”
The study did show, however, that college students are significantly less likely to receive treatment for alcohol or drug-related disorders than their non-college-attending peers, which are both well-known catalysts for mental instability.
With mental health issues being such a prevalent problem among college students, it is important to know how to recognize these problems. Below are some of the most common college-related mental health issues — substance abuse, depression and anxiety — and their signs:
According to a 2007 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1.8 million full-time college students (22.9 percent) meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence. Drug abuse often begins with social drug use, followed by a significant increase in use and dosage in order to maintain the initial effects. Some of the symptoms, according to MayoClinic, include an increased amount of time and money spent on drugs, failed attempts at quitting and risking personal safety to obtain drugs. Signs of substance abuse in others could include academic troubles, a significant change in physical health such as sudden and extreme loss or gain of weight and a change in personality.
Around 30 percent of college students experienced debilitating depression, according to a 2011 study by the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment. The symptoms are often easily recognizable, but many cases of depression in college students go unnoticed and untreated. The most common signs include an extreme increase or decrease in sleep, excessive fatigue, changes in diet and exercise regimens, difficulty concentrating on or remembering things and a decreased sex drive. Depression itself can be a symptom of other more serious mental health problems, making early diagnosis and treatment crucial.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that about 40 million American adults experience anxiety disorders, but only one-third of those adults receive appropriate treatment. Daily stress is not unusual for college students, but there are a few key ways to distinguish anxiety from normal strains. Although symptoms vary, many students with anxiety disorders experience irrational fears, seemingly arbitrary panic attacks and the need to repeat useless or purposeless actions in order to keep themselves calm.
The most important step to treating a mental health disorder is identification and immediate action. The Student Health Center is open and available for appointments for all University students during the day and provides a crisis hotline for after-hours emergencies.