Mental illness is skyrocketing among college students. According to current research, one in five young adults in the U.S. struggles with mental illness, though many don’t seek help. They feel overwhelmed by new responsibilities, and anxiety can cause conflicts in school.
Some of the most common mental health challenges students face include:
· Eating disorders
· Thoughts of suicide
These conditions can compound everyday stress to the point that day-to-day living becomes unbearable. College can be very stressful. Most students are moving away from home for the first time and learning how to build a new support network. There’s classwork, studying and social time with peers.
It’s important that we raise awareness about the impact mental health problems can have on college students during this very transitional and sometimes vulnerable stage in their lives. What are the signs that someone is struggling?
Anxiety often spikes for young adults during the initial transition to college. For many, those feelings of unease don’t dissipate, remaining elevated throughout the second semester.
In 2018, 63 percent of American college students said they felt overwhelming anxiety. The first year of college is considered a high-risk time for developing or worsening anxiety. One recent study even revealed that anxiety levels in young adults are on the rise, with more stressed and anxious students than ever before.
Going to college is a life-altering change — one that can lead to feelings of sadness, tiredness and melancholy in some. When you feel this way for an extended period, it could be a sign of mental illness.
Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, isn’t something you can just snap out of. It’s important that we all try to recognize the red flags and reach out to support those who need it. Symptoms of depression include:
· Irritability and frustration
· Loss of interest in hobbies
· Changes in weight or appetite
· Negative academic performance
· Trouble thinking or concentrating
The 10th most common cause of death in the U.S. is suicide, and an underlying mental illness has been present in roughly 90 percent of individuals who committed suicide.
College is a high-stress environment. Students want to find their place in the world, both professionally and socially. Mental illness can make suicide seem like a logical solution to the stress. According to one survey, more than 20 percent of students said they thought about committing suicide, and some even tried.
Roughly 10.2 million people in the U.S. have co-existing mental health and addiction issues. College students, with a brand new measure of freedom in their lives, are no strangers to substance abuse. Research shows that young drinkers consume over 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking, which is a very dangerous but typical trend among college students.
Problems with mental health and problems with substance abuse often inter-connect. Many people struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders use alcohol or drugs to ignore the pain. Self-medication may make the symptoms go away temporarily — but it’s all to easy to quickly develop a tolerance and then a dependency.
With the prevalence of and access to alcohol and drugs on campuses, it’s necessary that we talk about the high risk these environments create for those already struggling internally. The signs of addiction are often similar to those of depression, so keep an eye out for changes in your friends’ or family members’ behavior.
An eating disorder can often develop when one feels they lack control over a situation. Instead, they focus on how to control the body, typically through bulimia or anorexia.
College is when most young people are at risk of developing an eating disorder. Up to 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, rates that are on the rise. The cause comes down to an environment with increased workloads and less structure, which collides with feelings of anxiety and poor self-esteem.
Why Are We Ignoring the Signs?
The signs are clear — college students are one of the most at-risk demographics for mental illness. So, you may ask, why do many refuse to seek help? Why are they ignoring the signs? The answer: They’re not. They just don’t know where to turn. We need to make help more accessible.
Say you’re a college student who wants to deal with overwhelming anxiety. You go to the school clinic and have to wait weeks for the initial intake exam — the appointment where you review symptoms. Then, you may have to wait several more weeks to see someone who can prescribe or adjust medication. Students across the U.S. are so frustrated that they launched a petition that reads, “Students are turned away every day from receiving the treatment they need, and multiple suicide attempts and deaths go virtually ignored each semester.”
To many, especially those inexperienced with mental health, a few weeks may not seem like much. You may have to wait a few weeks to see your general practitioner. Yet with mental illness, wait times can be excruciating — especially in college, where every class, meal and interaction can seem like a hurdle.
Stopping the Wait, Starting the Change
When it comes to mental health, waiting is not an option. Take Constance Rodenbarger, for example. A student at Indiana University, she sought help at the counseling center as she struggled with depression and an abusive relationship. The next appointment was two weeks away. The day before her appointment, she tried to kill herself. As a result, Indiana University says it now offers students help within two days.
We need to do more to address the mental health needs of college students and young adults. Mental illness among young adults is, in general, a problem growing in severity, and we’re just not doing enough to solve it. There is more acceptance of mental illness and discussion of it than there perhaps ever has been, which is a start. However, the mental health crisis isn’t going anywhere, and now is the time for universities to come together and have a serious discussion about how to prevent and treat mental illnesses in their students.