Mental health is a topic that, while increasing in awareness, stills carries a harsh stigma of shame. There are many facets to mental health, but two cases, depression and anxiety, have seen a recent increase in the last few years. Major depressive disorder can develop at any age and in any gender. Women are more susceptible than men to develop depression; in the United States, the average age of developing depression is 32.5 years (Depression: What You Need to Know, Facts). Mental health cases, specifically those involving depression and anxiety, have recently grown in the university setting (Henriques, 2014).
A 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers showed that 52% of their clients presented with severe mental health issues, an increase from 44% in 2013
The data surrounding the statistics does not offer the full picture of the rising mental health problems. The reason for this is both anxiety and major depression disorder must be diagnosed. Diagnosis requires at least five of the nine possible symptoms listed in the DSM. These symptoms must last for at least two weeks, and they must impair your functioning (PsychologyToday). Resources and stigma prevent many from obtaining the necessary treatment leaving many to fall through the cracks. Unlike a physical ailment like the cold, depression and anxiety do not present with a hard and fast root or symptoms. It is different for everyone. As a result, the stigma of shame grows leaving many who suffer to face criticism and being told to ignore their mental health issues. Outsiders not suffering from mental health ignore symptoms and treatments and account a person’s mental health to dramatics, loneliness, or sadness. Mental health, like any other physical ailment, is a disease which requires treatment. Left untreated, patients are put at serious risk for further complications and harm.
If You Have Mental Health Issues, You Are Not Alone
The two most common mental disorders young adults experience are depression and anxiety, and college students are no exception. Over the past few decades, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise among college students (Henriques). In fact, mental illness is so pervasive among young adults that more than one-quarter of college-aged students (ages 18-24) has at least one diagnosable mental illness (Chadron State College). This fact shows that college students are at a heightened risk for mental illness as compared to the rest of society.
According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 12% of college students suffer from an anxiety disorder, while about 9% of college students have depression in some capacity.
Although the two are classified as different disorders, anxiety and depression often present themselves similarly and have a high rate of comorbidity. This means that many people who have depression also experience anxiety, and vice versa. Both disorders are characterized by feelings of hopelessness, social withdrawal, and patterns of unwanted, self-critical thoughts (Pedrelli, Nyer, Yeung, Zulauf & Wilens). These characteristics, among others, are major risk factors for suicide. Because young adults are most susceptible to suicidal thoughts, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, it is essential that such thoughts and symptoms are addressed both compassionately and appropriately.
Mental Health in Students
Today, more colleges are offering mental health services and counseling to their students than ever before. The demand for counseling services is increasing at such a fast rate that colleges and universities cannot provide enough resources to fulfill the increasing need. Currently, the average university has one professional counselor employed for every 1,737 students (Reilly), which is not nearly enough to provide students with the necessary treatment in a timely manner. Although colleges are attempting to adjust to the rising demand for mental health services by hiring more therapists for the counseling staff, the wait time does not decrease. Since more students are seeking mental health services now than in the past, the student-to-counselor ratio remains out of proportion and, as a result, the wait time also stays the same.
The services available to students are not only unable to meet the growing demand for mental health services but are also often limited in scope. Less than 1% of university counseling centers are directed by psychiatrists and less than ⅔ of colleges offer services for students struggling with mental health problems (JED Foundation). Given that 25% of all college students receiving mental health treatment are on some type of plan involving medications (Thielking), there is a huge disconnect between psychiatrists and the students who need them.
Stigma also serves as a barrier to proper treatment and management of mental health disorders. Only about ⅓ of those students who tested positive for a mental health disorder received treatment in the past year (NIH), thus leaving a large majority untreated. However, many of those that do seek treatment are often not granted the resources they need to succeed. Students suffering from diagnosed psychological disorders are expected to function at the same level as those without mental health issues, which can be an added stressor for those dealing with psychological disorders.
Because of higher expectations for students, pressure from parents, and a college’s ability to make students feel lost in a sea of other people, it’s no wonder why universities have such high numbers of students who commit suicide. Often, colleges are full of fundraisers for mental health organizations and mental health days. These are usually put together by students. Although raising awareness is beneficial, another way to change the way mental health is handled is through the administration of a university itself.
Some factors common among college students that attribute to higher instances of mental health problems in students include: lack of access to health resources, self-esteem issues, financial and academic stress, confusion about their future and their place in the world, and the stigma around not “succeeding” and succumbing to these disorders (Henriques, 2014).
For example,many friends of Kathryn DeWitt, a student at the University of Pennsylvania who committed suicide prior to 2015, noted the pressure of college and competing with other students as a contributor to the mental health problems she faced. It seemed as to her every other college student knew what they wanted. She was not as confident and self-doubt settled into her life (Scelfo, 2015). Clearly some main contributors outside of psychological imbalances were the external factors of academic stress and self-esteem issues.
Recently, many colleges have decided to look into incidents of suicides at their schools to see how situations could have been handled better. One prime example of a college doing this was Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT. MIT started to investigate the incidents after one student, Han Nguyen a student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management committed suicide after a professor criticized him. The parents of Han Nguyen claimed that MIT was aware of their son’s fragile mental state (Seelye, 2018). However, MIT reported that Mr. Nguyen was dealing with mental health issues before coming to MIT. These attempts had taken place at MIT, but the professionals helping him were in no way connect to MIT. In the end, the court decided that MIT was not responsible for Nguyen’s death. The court did suggest there could be circumstances where colleges and universities could be have some responsibility for the safety of their students (Seelye, 2018). They listed the circumstances as a student expressing an intention to commit suicide.
Often times cases like Mr. Nguyen occur when there is a shortage in counseling services for students. More often than not, students cannot get an appointment with a counselor provided by their university. Schools tend to have a higher population of students that need mental health assistance than their staff is able to handle. This leads to students seeing counselors less often than they need to. Students usually can get an appointment with a counselor, but they may not be able to get an appointment for weeks after requesting them. Even when students get an appointment after calling, they are not able to schedule consistent appointments which stops them from being able to continually work at bettering their mental health with a trained professional.
Although awareness is being heightened, it was not possible to find an instance in which a college was found accountable for the suicide of any students, but it was ruled that it may be possible for colleges to be found accountable for students suicides if they were to disclose information about suicidal thoughts to the administration without intervention from them (Richer, 2018).
If You Are Experiencing Mental Health Issues,
Here’s What You Can Do
We understand that it is an extremely tough time, but here are various methods to help you through this difficult time. First of all, do not hesitate to ask for help. The help can professional or personal, but attempt to let people know how you are feeling. You do not have to go through this alone.. Remember, finding the right self help methods can be overwhelming and frustrating but be patient and you will find the appropriate methods. Follow the basics of exercise and meditation as they have proven to help individuals. (NAMI, 2019). According to NAMI, here are some extreme self coping techniques.
First, accepting yourself and your condition. (Pombo, 2019) . In order to help yourself, realize and accept that you are facing a mental illness. Second of all, follow the basic breathing exercises. Breathing exercise is a concept that sounds cliche but when deep breaths are taken, there is a message sent to you brain. This calms the brain down and helps the mind to believe that everything will be okay. Another methods you can use to help yourself is the five sense method. Run through what each of your senses is experiencing in that moment. Look at every detail in the moment and notice its effects through every sense. Running through your senses will take only a few seconds and will help keep you present and focused on what is real, on what is happening right now (Pombo, 2019) . These are some of the methods that can help you in the moment, but remember not all of these methods will work for everyone. You need to patient and eventually you will find the method that best works for you.
Here are some hotline resources if you are looking to talk to someone. These calls are confidential. If needed, these organizations will also be able to provide you with further help.
This helpline is available in both English and Spanish!
The Trevor Project (LGBTQ focused)
Trevor Text is a confidential and secure resource that provides live help for LGBTQ youth with a trained specialist, over text messages. Text START to 678678.
Lifeline Chat is a service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, connecting individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat
If You Know Someone Else May Need Help/Support,
Here’s What You Can Do
Before provide support for other individuals, remember to take care of yourself. Realize when to stop and when it is negatively affecting your mental state. It is extremely important to appropriately support individuals going through this tough time. First of all, let the individual know that you are concerned and are always available to support them. While supporting this person, remember to be sensitive and persistent. The individual might not accept your help as sometimes people are unaware so please be patient and understanding. Eventually, encourage them to consider professional help, and aid them in approaching appropriate available resources.(Helping Others, 2019). Do not force them into any type of help, rather ask them what type of help will be the most appropriate for them specifically. If you ever feel that the individual has suicidal thoughts, please do not keep a secret. Inform an adult or professionals as no one has to go through this alone. Overall, educate yourself on basics of depression and other mental health issues. (Helping Others, 2019) . (Look at the graphic below which provides with dos and don’ts of talking to someone with depression.) Also, remember that it is not easy to snap out, and it is not something that will just disappear. The individual is going through many different emotions and it is extremely tough for them, so be patient and provide the support you are able to. Finally, always know that it is important for you to take care of yourself as well.
Learn More About What to Say and What Not to Say When Supporting Someone
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