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College Students Most Prone to Mental Illness

Glenn Rohrbacker

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You are looking out the window as you drive past your new home. You see a lot of

strangers, tall buildings with elaborate features, families there for the same reason you

are, and the grocery chain that will be your new local store. You think about all of the

years you have spent where you grew up, the friends you have made, the family you love,

the school where you developed into who you are, and you do not see any of it. You do

not think about how you need all those things, rather that they were all memories and

you’re bound to make new ones. You have to, right?

Little do you know, these feelings will not go away. You will miss your family when you

need them most. You will want your old friends on a Friday night. You will think about

the teachers that you came to know. And, you are not the only one.

“It’s a natural set-up for quite a bit of anxiety and even overwhelming anxiety in some

cases,” says Dr. Charles Anderson, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at

the University of New Haven.

Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental illnesses in college students,

although the trend does shift over the years.

One of the factors contributing to the difficulty of a mental health condition is the

stigma around this area of illness. Although not much different from other kinds of

illness, mental illness is treated as less important than physical illness. Thus, it makes it

less encouraging for people to seek help for these problems.

“As more of us share our experiences, then the stigma starts to reduce, as we understand

that this is a shared experience and this is what is part of being human,” said John

McPhee, CEO of the JED Foundation.

New studies are showing that mental health risks are most common between the ages 18

and 24. A report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows that 75% of mental

health conditions form between these ages – the exact same time most students are at

college. The report also finds that 1 in 5 young adults are living with a mental illness

today, with suicide ranking as the second leading cause of death among ages 15 to 24, as

confirmed by the JED Foundation.

“We [The JED Foundation] know how critically important it is that the right type of

safety net is being set up around a college student as they embark on this new journey in

their lives,” says McPhee.

According to the JED Foundation, a non-profit dealing with mental health in teens and

young adults, over half of college students will go through a period of time with high

anxiety and one third of college students will experience some level of depression.

NAMI is looking to outline the fact that mental illness is common, there are warning

signs for it, individuals should seek help when they need it and also learn about privacy

laws when sharing information. The most important thing NAMI tries to encourage is

starting a conversation about mental health within families before a student goes off to

college.

“We need to have conversations more often, because mental illness is the biggest public

health issue that college students are not talking about,” says Gilliberti.

There are currently a lot of conversations about controversial topics like alcohol abuse

and sexual assault, but not enough conversation about mental health.

When talking to student leaders in all three divisions of the NCAA, Dr. Brian Hainline

discovered that the unanimous concern was mental health, and they asked him to make

it his priority as Chief Medical Officer.

“We discovered that student athletes have different stressors that make them more

prone to other types of mental conditions,” he said.

The NCAA has worked for the past three years consolidate different information on

mental illness to help colleges and universities support student athletes with mental

health conditions. Dr. Hainline’s personal task force put together a book called, Mind,

Body and Sport, which has been distributed to every NCAA school. The book goes over

the best practices for dealing with mental illness for both coaches and students.

Hainline has also put a focus on the protocols used by schools to treat students and

student athletes with mental illness. The association looked at the resources available at

universities to see if they could provide adequate healthcare to students, as well as

mental health education.

“If a student athlete is going to seek help for mental help, he or she has to feel like he or

she is in an environment, and that the coach is supportive,” Hainline said.

Mental illness not only affects a student’s academic performance and overall mood and

livelihood, but also their athletic performance.

The consensus across professional mental health disciplines is that the most important

and significant way to curb the stigma against mental health and provide the right type

of care and support for students is through conversation. Conversations have to start

early and have to encourage openness between a student and whoever they are sharing

with.

Dr. Anderson speaks to the parents of incoming freshmen every year before they start

their college life. In these talks, he tells parents to be open and honest with their

children.

“Make it clear that them getting the help they need is the most important thing. If you

want to share your own experience, that’s even better,” he tells them.

Through conversation, mental health can be a more widely covered topic, therefore

providing the best possible care and information to those affected by it.

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College Students Most Prone to Mental Illness