College stress: Major in anxiety, minor in depression – Got Anxiety?
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
This is the first in a four-part series from the Barmanns on the topic of college student stress and its associated mental health consequences.
“It’s going to be the best 4 years of your life.” Many high school seniors typically hear that statement as they get ready to leave home for the first time, en route to beginning their college career.
Indeed, we would agree that our undergraduate years were, in conjunction with a very demanding academic curriculum, filled with good times, establishing great friendships, attending Saturday afternoon football games, etc.
Unfortunately, these days, college students may be having a hard time agreeing that they are currently experiencing what they will later term “the best 4 years of their lives.”
When declaring one’s major, several fields of study have always been available—journalism, psychology, biology, medicine, etc.
Based on a number of university research studies, in addition to the many college students we see in our practice, one gets the feeling today’s college students have decided to declare a major in anxiety, with a minor in depression.
For the past 25 years, we have taught several undergraduate and graduate courses at the California Lutheran University, concerning the topic of anxiety disorders.
Each semester, several of our students would typically approach us for the purpose of requesting advice concerning personal problems they were experiencing — all of which were anxiety-related in nature.
In addition, throughout our academic tenure, our university counseling center consistently reported that they typically treated student concerns related to homesickness, relationship problems, family issues and future career decisions.
These types of concerns are no longer the primary issues voiced by today’s collegians. Instead, the treatment of anorexia, cutting, suicidal ideation, alcoholism, anxiety conditions and mood disorders have now become the norm.
BY THE NUMBERS
Each year, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health publishes a report that summarizes counseling center intake data provided by more than 100,000 students, across 263 colleges located in the United States.
Consider the following statistics summarized within the most current CCMH 2014 report:
22 percent of students seek therapy at some point during their college careers.
10 percent of students involved in therapy had previously been hospitalized for a mental health condition.
33 percent of college freshman enter school with a psychiatric disorder, typically anxiety or major depression.
20 percent of all college students are taking psychotropic medications — primarily antidepressants, and anxiolytics for anxiety conditions.
During the past five consecutive years, 54 percent of college students have been diagnosed with at least 1 of the 5 major anxiety disorders, typically social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or panic disorder.
25 percent of college students engage in some form of self-mutilation (cutting, burning, hair-pulling). In nearly all cases, these students reported that their self-harm was the result of an inability to regulate emotions related to anxiety.
30 percent of college students who receive treatment for anxiety or depression report that they have seriously contemplated suicide.
Micky Sharma, president of the Association of University & College Counseling Centers and Director of Student Counseling at Ohio State University reported that in 2010, depression was the primary diagnosis among the college student population.
Today, anxiety is the No. 1 diagnosis seen across both private and public universities, with enrollment numbers ranging from 500 to 56,000 students.
THE CORNELL STUDY
In support of the statistics, a research study published in 2014 by Cornell University found that anxiety disorders were the most common condition treated within their student counseling center.
In addition, anxiety was also identified as the most important factor related to poor class attendance, delayed graduation dates, and student attrition rates.
As mentioned earlier, social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders experienced by college students.
Anxiety driven by social concerns has far reaching consequences — including the avoidance of entering into romantic relationships, difficulty living with roommates, problems attending large classes, and avoiding individual face to face meetings during a professor’s office hours, when needing additional help with coursework.
This form of anxiety typically generalizes to nearly all aspects of college life, and is frequently a trigger for substance abuse, particularly with respect to the use of alcohol.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll examine the primary reasons why social anxiety remains so prevalent among the college population, as well as questions concerning the relationship between college student anxiety and the type of academic institutions that may inadvertently serve to trigger and maintain specific anxiety disorders.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. They own the Center for Anxiety & Chronic Worry in Incline Village. Barry may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org; visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.
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