Over the last decade, anxiety has become the most prominent mental health concern among American college students. Every year, colleges are registering an increasing number of student requests to visit on-campus counseling centers. In institutions like the Ohio State University (OSU), general appointments for counseling increased from 20,000 in the 2011-12 academic year to 36,000 in the 2016-17 academic year. Urgent appointments in 2016-17 registered a nearly 50 percent increase over the previous year and were triple the levels a decade ago.
With the increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression among students, colleges are taking proactive steps to identify and offer suitable interventions for these conditions. For a large majority of students, exams are a time of great stress. Colleges are going the extra mile to help students de-stress by organizing end-of-semester campus events offering pet therapy and art therapy, and at times, giving away goodie bags, stress balls and free smoothies/coffee. A highly likely reason for undertaking these initiatives is that campus counseling centers are overburdened.
Experts attribute this increase to a number of factors. An overall reduction in the stigma associated with mental health among recent generations of college students has resulted in a higher number of students seeking professional mental health services than before. More students with a prior history of receiving counseling or mental health treatment are entering college. A fast-paced lifestyle, combined with the pressures of technology, which endlessly streams negative or tragic news, can also be contributing factors.
Students may lack resilience and coping skills
Alfred B. Weiner, director of counseling and psychological services at the Ohio University, said, “Life has just gotten way more complicated.” While technology and social media has propagated an “always on” culture and a high level of connection with others, it does not mean that students are getting meaningful help or advice. Experts are concerned that recent generations of students lack resilience and coping skills. They are also living in an age of information overload where answers can be obtained almost instantaneously. Moreover, eager parents are always available to help their children.
This turns into a problem when students enter college and need to deal with several unknown factors beyond their control. According to Ben Locke, executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU), current generations of students have grown up in highly controlled settings. The educational framework requires them to be competitive at a young age, and school routines are usually packed with extracurricular activities. Many students enter college/university without knowing how to solve their own problems.
The cumulative impact of all these factors has led to a general lack of resilience among students, with a resulting increase in their anxiety levels and other mental disorders. They also lack effective coping skills to deal with various college-related problems. Specific tragic events involving fellow students can worsen anxiety, including instances of physical/sexual assault and campus deaths. Another factor which may add to the stress levels is educational loans and a weaker economy, leading to fewer jobs.
Students encouraged to seek help
Besides campus events designed to help students in alleviating stress, colleges are encouraging students to seek help from counselors. For instance, the OSU has added a number of full-time clinicians at its counseling center. Students can choose from several counseling options like drop-in sessions, group sessions and personalized counseling. A few therapists have also been stationed in certain specific areas of the campus to ensure better accessibility by students.
According to the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) Spring 2017 survey, 24.2 percent college students reported that anxiety impacted their individual academic performance, including lower grades, course drop-outs and significant disruptions in research work. Nearly 22.4 percent students experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the last 12 months, with 60.8 percent students experiencing such a feeling at any time during the same period.
When anxiety becomes a debilitating condition and interferes with academic performance, it is imperative to seek help. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego offers evidence-based techniques for treating anxiety disorders in teens. We provide both medications and behavioral therapeutic interventions to our patients according to their need. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online to get more information about teen generalized anxiety disorder and how to deal with it.