Having spent the majority of my senior year of college heavily investing my time as a patient at my college’s mental health department, I am fully aware of the lack of good treatment made available to current college students.
During college, an often imposing and demanding new world becomes the backdrop for students attempting to step into the next phases of their academic and personal lives. College is awash in opportunities for self-discovery and can be an amazing personal learning tool to develop oneself and one’s passions. However, as many college students come to find out, behind the curtain of discovery and exploration often lies an unknown atmosphere of new, daunting, and sometimes overwhelming experiences.
Students are truly alone for the first time in their lives, facing stringent academic requirements, personal situations, and a wide variety of previously unexplored situations. As a result of taking on so many new responsibilities, many college students are finding themselves overwhelmed and unable to cope with the expectations of their new lives. Some of these students become so wrought with guilt about their performances and the “expectations” that both they and others have set for them that symptoms of mental illness begin to develop.
The reasons students report an increase in diagnosed mental illness or prevalence of new, undiagnosed symptoms are many.
A study at Queens College in Canada offered a range of reasons students are grappling with mental health problems: everything from the stress of moving away from home, to academic demands, social pressures, parents’ expectations, and a looming recognition of the tough job market awaiting them. (Lunau) The Queen’s report notes, “In this delicate life period, people move out on their own, strike up new relationships, experiment with drugs and alcohol, and assume new responsibilities.”
Researcher Janis Whitlock from Cornell University found that “7.5% of students who started university with no history of mental illness developed some symptoms. About 5% who did not have a previous history of mental illness saw symptoms increase while at the university.”
Whether it is stress or an unknown environment causing increases in mental illness, there are positive signs that colleges are seeing in regards to mental health. Colleges report that students no longer suffer from the same stigma of a fear or reporting for on-campus health and counseling. As a result, colleges are now often finding themselves overwhelmed with the number of new mental health cases reported each year. Many schools are rapidly hiring more counselors and mental health advisers to let the student body know the school has an active interest in maintaining positive mental health for the campus community.
One full-time campus psychiatrist reported that “the goal is to get each student an appointment within two weeks. But, last year, because of the levels of mental health severity, the wait became much longer. Maybe three or four times as long.” (Lunau)
Campus administrators have found that, with the increasing demands on today’s college students, young people are becoming unable to cope with the stressors of life. There is a limited job market and students are often taking non-paying jobs and internships just to stay afloat and remain competitive amongst their peers and potential co-workers.
“Getting over the hurdles of life takes time for introspection, and that’s also in short supply. Students aren’t left alone with their thoughts on the bus to school or the walk across campus. They’re texting, listening to music, checking Facebook or Twitter, often all at once. There’s no time to mull over difficult, complicated emotions, and no immediate reason to do it, either.” (Lunau)
College administrators are continuing to bridge the gap between mental health and student’s overall well-being. Says one administrator, “If students are healthy and happy, it will help them succeed academically and socially.”
The increased attention to mental health amongst college students will hopefully provide a more comforting platform to address and cope with mental illness.
Lunau, Kate. The Mental Health Crisis on Campus. n.d. <http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/tag/mental-health-on-campus/>.
By Chase A.