Colleges face increase in student anxiety

ANNA GUTERMUTH /CC BY-2.0 A growing number of college students are experiencing symptoms of anxiety across the country.

ANNA GUTERMUTH /CC BY-2.0
A growing number of college students are experiencing symptoms of anxiety across the country.

By RAYYAN JOKHAI
For The News-Letter

Anxiety has recently surpassed depression as the most common mental health problem among college students. While depression is still on the rise, anxiety levels among college students have skyrocketed. A study conducted by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health and Pennsylvania State University found that over 50 percent of students visiting their campus clinics recognize anxiety as one of their health concerns.

Anxiety is a term that encompasses a range of mental health disorders, including social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. However, it can be related to other issues, like depression.

According to the American College Health Association, nearly one out of every six students has been diagnosed or treated for issues related to anxiety within the past year. Some commonly mentioned causes of anxiety include schoolwork, money issues and relationship problems. Unfortunately, campus health centers do not have the capacity to treat the number of patients seeking help, a number that seems to grow daily.

For example, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Central Florida (UCF) has seen an increase of 15.2 percent in anxiety-related cases in the last year alone. In fact, the center struggles so much to meet the mental health issues of students that it has begun to turn supply closets into therapist offices.

The lessening stigma surrounding mental health issues, coupled with the fact that high school pressures have increased, can explain why college students appear to be suffering more from anxiety. Many students arrive on campus having already been exposed to so much stress that the increased stress provided by a college atmosphere is enough to send them in search of help.

Additionally, for most of these students, college is the first time that they are truly alone and away from parental guidance. Without this immediate support structure, many students find it difficult to cope with the sharp uptake in personal responsibility.

With the growing number of anxiety cases reported, many students are feeling as if their needs are not being addressed.

Rather than being treated, many students feel that they are being dismissed because of how common anxiety has become at the college level.

Low to mild levels of anxiety can be combated early with intervention and treatment. However, many of these cases are being left untreated for several weeks because students with more urgent needs are being prioritized. While this solves one problem, it creates another since these lower-level issues are being left alone long enough that they may develop into greater issues.

Many college counseling centers have designed daily workshops and formed therapy groups that treat anxiety and depression and discuss their potential causes. Also, therapists have become more equipped to deal with a greater variety of anxiety triggers.

Campus counseling centers tend to be primarily concerned with helping students complete their education. A high rate of students are not graduating — federal statistic shows that only 59 percent of students who began four year colleges in 2006 graduated within six years.

Campus counseling centers are struggling to cope with the enormous amount of students with anxiety issues, most of whom identify academic stress as their main pressure. Newer, unique methods are being employed to alleviate anxiety during high-pressure times at college, like finals week. UCF is bringing in therapy dogs to spend time with students and reduce their stress levels.

As more students find themselves anxiety-stricken, colleges are going to have to adapt, as UCF did, to the ever-growing number of mental health patients.

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