Mental health and college students

December can be a time of overwhelming stress, depression or anxiety, especially for college students. Maybe you are stressed out about your final exams. Perhaps you feel sad because of the gloomy, dreary winter days. Possibly the looming holidays cause you to remember or miss someone no longer in your life. Although anxious feelings are normal, it is also important to know when a bad day is more than, well, just a bad day. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School — one in which our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved — makes us more aware of our actions and those of the people around us. If you aren’t quite feeling like yourself, or if someone you know seems to be behaving differently, consider talking to a school counselor.

Sobering statistics

A study of 765 college students conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported the following results:

  • 35% of the students were unaware of mental health facilities available on their campuses
  • 36% said even if they knew help was available, they would have refused assistance for fear of humiliation or labeling
  • 64% of the students diagnosed with a mental illness withdrew from college
  • ½ of the 64% never sought help for their illnesses

Another study of 100,000 students, conducted by the American College Health Association, gleaned the following results:

  • More than 11% of the students were diagnosed with anxiety
  • More than 10% of the students were diagnosed with depression

Common college student diagnoses

According to the University of Oregon’s Counseling & Testing Center, the main “mental health issues on campus” consist of the following — all of which should be discussed with a mental health professional:

  • Anxiety — which is caused by stress and can bring on physical discomfort (such as sore muscles) or cause “‘negative self-talk’ – a habit of always telling ourselves the worst will happen”
  • Depression — a serious condition that requires medical attention and is usually characterized by feelings of sadness for days, weeks or months at a time
  • Eating Disorders — mostly common in the forms of anorexia (“a pattern of self-imposed starvation”) and bulimia (a pattern of “binge eating and self-induced vomiting”)
  • Substance Abuse — frequent use, interference with normal activities and changes in personality can all be signs of drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Possibility of Suicide — can be brought on by a loss, severe anxiety or depression

Thoughts of suicide in yourself (or a friend “joking” around about it) should be taken extremely seriously. Seek immediate attention by calling your college’s emergency phone number or getting in touch with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Just a bad day…or something more?

It is never easy to tell if you or someone close to you needs help. If you have been feeling gloomy or sad lately, consider what might be causing these feelings. If you can’t pinpoint an exact cause, make an appointment with a healthcare professional to discuss your mood swings.

However, if this isn’t a step you are ready to take, consider visiting the Active Minds website (a nonprofit organization devoted to the mental health of college students), where you can view a checklist of behavior that might require medial attention, including:

  • Poor self esteem or feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Overreacting to situations with feelings of anger, rage or desire for revenge
  • Frequent crying
  • Impulsive behaviors, such as binge drinking or putting yourself in dangerous situations

If you experience any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to talk to someone.

Feeling depressed, sad, lonely, confused, overwhelmed or lost can be common, but it is important to reach out to someone you can trust, be it a friend or healthcare professional, if your moods get out of control. Just remember, no matter how bad it seems there is always help and there is always hope.

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