Is there a correlation between college students and mental health issues?

| Staff Reporter

When a roommate or suitemate comes down with the flu or mononucleosis, usually one can easily recognize that he or she is sick. But when a friend suffers from depression or anxiety, the symptoms are often much less obvious. According to recent national surveys of campus therapists, there is a rising trend of students seeking psychiatric help in colleges across the country.

“On a yearly basis, we have about one in 10 students seek mental health help at Student Health Services,” said Thomas Brounk, director of the Mental Health Services at Washington University. “Approximately 65 percent of those students are females and 35 percent are males. The typical reasons that students seek help include but are definitely not limited to depression, anxiety, family issues, academic stress, relationship problems.”

Brounk indicated that the number of students seen in the counseling service has doubled from 500 in 1995 to more than 1,000 in 2008.

“Certainly, college and university counseling centers are seeing a substantial increase in the numbers of students who are making use of services,” Brounk said. “This is not necessarily a negative trend as it may signal that there is less of a stigma to taking care of the emotional side to one’s health and to pursue treatment, especially in younger generations.”

In a 2008 national survey of college counseling directors, 95 percent of directors agreed that there has been an increasing trend within recent years of students arriving at counseling centers with serious psychological problems.

According to a 2003 study conducted by psychologist Sherry Benton and colleagues at Kansas State University since 1994, stress and anxiety problems were reported more frequently than developmental concerns, such as relationship difficulties. Significant increases were also seen in the number of students reporting depression, suicidal thoughts and sexual assault. This particular study examined 13,257 students seeking help.

While these various studies do indicate the trend of increasing mental health issues among college students, the reason behind the increase is not definitive.

“The trend of increasingly competitive college environment might lead to the increase in mental health issues among college students,” Brounk said. “This trend eventually translates into the message that being good isn’t good enough, which means more competition and stress connected to getting good grades. More competition and stress can easily translate into more anxiety and depression if coping skills begin to fail.”

Sophomore David Vera-Vazquez said, “Society today is definitely much more competitive than it used to be. While competitiveness can bring many positive end results, there can also be negative consequences such as added stress to succeed.”

Brounk also said that some theories point to today’s over-emphasis on raising youth with healthy self-esteem, which can lead to an overly protective learning environment. He said that younger people today are not allowed to fail and therefore have yet to learn how to effectively cope with failure and setbacks. Since life can be full of failure and setbacks, these incidents now result in more misery and deeper feelings of depression and anxiety.

No matter what the reasons behind this increasing trend of mental health issues in college students are, there is plenty of help on campus. The Habif Health and Wellness Center has a comprehensive mental health service comprised of psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors who are able to assist students with a wide range of concerns. The first nine mental health visits with a counselor are free of charge and psychiatry appointments are $15 each.

In addition to these in-person options, students can take online assessments to better assess their level of stress and depression. Health Promotion Services also offers stress management classes and individualized stress reduction consultations.

“Practicing good stress and time management skills is key to preventing mental health issues,” Brounk said. “Students should try to achieve some balance in their lives with respect to how much they focus on academics versus doing things that they naturally enjoy and bring them energy. Sleep deprivation can be a significant trigger for depression and anxiety, so students should try not to skimp too much and for too long on sleep.”

Said Vera-Vazquez, “I would definitely talk to my parents first if I feel that I’m too stressed or depressed. I would not rule out utilizing the services on campus to help me cope with any mental health problems I might develop in the future.”

Other resources include Stressbusters, which is a new program in which students can get a free five-minute back rub. Furthermore, Uncle Joe’s is a student-run peer counseling service available during the fall and spring semesters, and is located in the basement of Gregg Hall, or by calling 314-935-5099.

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