Apr 16 2015

Our College Students Are In A Mental Health Crisis: We Need To Pay Better Attention

 StudyOur College Students Are In A Mental Health Crisis: We Need To Pay Better Attention – Vol. 305, April 16, 2015 

Psychologytoday.com published an article on February 15, 2015 called The College Student Mental Health Crisis,” by Gregg Henriques. This very complete article sites many studies to back up the sad claim that our college students are in worse mental health then ever before.

The American Freshman 2012 annual survey found that 30% of college freshmen reported feeling frequently overwhelmed, with 40.5% of women so afflicted, reporting the highest number since the survey began in 1985. Then, there was less than half the percentage reporting frequent overwhelm today.

A 2013 survey found that 57% of women and 40% of men were experiencing episodes of “overwhelming anxiety” in he past year. Feelings of depression making it difficult to function was reported by 33% of the women and 27% of the men. Between 25% and 33% of the students meet the criteria for an anxiety of depressive illness during their college experience. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA) the suicide rate among 15 – 24 year olds has tripled since the 1950’s making it the second most common cause of death among college students. The study also found 9.4% of students seriously considering attempted suicide at least once in a 12 month period.

Use of Ritalin and related “study drugs” have dramatically increased in the past two decades. I had a client who didn’t have ADD or ADHD, yet was suffering from bulimia, taking Ritalin to help her study longer into the evening as she was working her way through an MBA program. This was a particularly deadly combination given the stress on her heart from her eating disorder.

Which brings me to the next report where 20% of the students, both men and woman reported having a history of an eating disorder. Anorexia and bulimia are the number one killers of woman 15 to 24 years of age.

Binge drinking is another concern not only because of the potential of alcohol poisoning,  but deaths due to drinking while intoxicated. The number of college students considered alcohol dependent is up to 2.8 million. Given the lack of impulse control, 97,000 students were sexually assaulted. Sexually transmitted disease is yet another concern with this sort of behavior occurring.

Unfortunately many parents feel that though other’s kids could have these mental health problems, they don’t see their own kids having these problems. This I can tell you is a very short sighted and potentially deadly point of view.

I was speaking to a grandfather who was telling me of his grandson’s getting thrown out of basketball games because of his terrible rages against umpires calling fouls on him. This grandfather was very loving in that he was doing his best to teach his grandson how to visualize successful plays while calming him down through teaching him self-hypnosis. Though this is a very good approach, I brought it to his attention that this sort of uncalled for rage could be an indicator of depression and needed to be treated as such before his grandson became yet another statistic.

My very best childhood friend killed himself at the age of 39, hanging himself from a rafter in the same church that he was employed to work with teens. When I read his very long writings in my high school year books, it was quite obvious that he was feeling very overwhelmed by all the activities he was to be involved in to gain scholarships to ivy league colleges, while needing to have excellent grades. One would never think this young man was depressed to look at him, and yet, under the facade he was a ticking time bomb.

I know myself, that during my sophomore year I went through a terrible time with my roommate’s father coming on to me inappropriately. It was she who got to keep the room even though her home was 10 minutes down the road from the college. This as I was forced to move into another dorm room. That would have been okay if the roommate wasn’t putting nooses over my head as she was popping Quaaludes while drinking hard alcohol to mark her time through school. By the second semester I was moved into a single where I had some peace and quiet. However, the trauma I underwent set off a precondition for manic depression that was not diagnosed and treated till I was 28 years old. This because the illness got so bad, me feeling so depressed and hopeless that I finally went in for help.

I know that while I was at college there was at least one nursing student who became anorexic, there was another female who was a binge drinker and another who got pregnant her sophomore year and dropped out. This was between 1979 and 1983. There was a lot of drinking at the school I went to, keg parties thrown virtually every weekend in the upper class men’s dorms, though that wasn’t the avenue I went thank God given my manic depression. This is because 85% of all manic depressives will self-medicate their mood swings with substances with 15% of them dying as a result of their illness.

To make this point even more strongly, I treated a 19 year old Nairobi college student whose mother was very upset with herself because she didn’t realize that her very own son was experiencing suicidal ideation. She was upset because she is a medical doctor and has seen many of her own patients suffering with depression and yet when it came to her own son, though she realized he was unhappy, she didn’t realize how far into depression he had fallen. This happened because she was so close to the problem it was hard for her to see it. So, if a medical doctor couldn’t fully understand the state of her own child, it is easy to see how someone without that training could miss it.

Understanding how common these problems are with our college youth, understanding that college is a time when teens are becoming adults, learning how to manage money, time, and the recreational grenades that all colleges have – we need to do a better job of letting our kids know that we love them, want to hear from them and are willing to take their concerns seriously. If this isn’t done, your kid could become another statistic which is certainly something I am sure you would rather not experience.

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