Mental Health In American Colleges

The Crisis

Studies show that members of Generation Z experience higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than any prior generation. Some contributing factors include personal debt, housing instability, as well as financial and work related concerns. College, which has been an American symbol of achievement, has been undergoing a shift in reputation for many Americans as the economy and job market becomes more unstable and tumultuous. The constant pressure that college students face has lead to an unprecedented demand for counseling services.

Coupled with personal difficulties that many face, students also have to deal with finding their place in such a success-driven society. Young Americans are constantly reminded to strive to be like well-known success stories. Generation Z are encouraged to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, to start a business or cultivate a million dollar idea. High school students are pushed to enroll in college and “figure it out along the way”, rather than to take time to develop their strengths and interests first without building up thousands of dollars in student loans. Waves of immigration bring first-generation college students, who carry the pressure of ensuring tangible success to support their families.

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Most Common Mental Health Challenges

Depression

Depression, as defined by Mayo Clinic, is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. A 2013 survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 36.4% of college students reported they experienced some level of depression. This survey also found that depression was the most common source of college drop outs.

Anxiety

Anxiety is defined by Mayo Clinic as a disorder marked by intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and separation anxiety disorder.

Addiction

An addiction is defined as a dependency and repeated abuse of a substance such as drugs or alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that:

• About 25% of students who regularly drink report academic problems tied to their drinking habits

• Nearly 60% of college students have consumed alcohol in the past month, and nearly two out of three of those students engaged in binge drinking during the same period

• Almost 20% of college students meet Alcohol Use Disorder criteria

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, as defined by Mayo Clinic, are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

On Campus Accomodations

Most American universities have variations of counseling, mental health, and disability departments and services. Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, most colleges and universities are required to offer accommodations to students with a physical or mental disability. Because of this, On campus resources for struggling students have become increasingly accessible. Students are encouraged to register with these departments on campus in order to receive accommodations for psychiatric disabilities.

These accommodations serve to ‘level the playing field’ , so to speak, and break down the barriers that prevent students from reaching their full academic potential. The success of these accommodations are a collaborative effort between the student, instructors, and support services. The student’s discretion and privacy is a priority, as well as determining which specific accommodations and needs are required and how they can be adapted to different classroom settings.

The following are examples of some accommodations students can expect to receive under the appropriate departments/ on campus services:

• Preferred seating.

• Additional breaks (during class instruction)

• Separate exam rooms

• Written exams and presentations

• Use of tape recorder (during class instruction)

• Deadline extensions (for assignments and projects)

• Completing work at home.

Off Campus Resources

For off campus resources, the fastest way to see ones options are to utilize the vast expanse of the internet. Googling “mental health services in [city’s name]” will yield the information of various psychiatric facilities and mental health and treatment centers. If students don’t feel comfortable addressing their concerns on campus, they can search or be referred to resources that may suit their personal needs better. Off campus options may also be a better bet for students with certain insurance plans that may not be compatible on campus.

For those who’d rather go without any face-to-face interaction, our increasingly digital society has many options. Many people now opt for online counseling services, which provide support from trained and licensed therapists as an alternative to in-person therapy. Companies such as BetterHelp, ReGain, and TalkBetter are a few of the well-known options that have emerged in recent years. Online counseling boasts a more affordable, convenient, and discreet method of therapy.

For students just needing like-minded individuals who can relate to their struggles, online support groups are also popular and readily available through some quick searching. There are even apps available that serve these same purposes. More importantly, there are apps that serve to help track and lessen symptoms, utilizing trusted therapy methods such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy). These apps range from general mental health support, to specialized support dealing with specific disorders.

Mental Health in College: My Experience

College wasn’t the beginning of my struggles with mental health, but it undoubtedly played a large role in the troubles I faced. As a high school senior, the process of selecting a university and college major was a very stressful one, which was not alleviated by financial concerns. I’d received a decent grant and small scholarship upon my entrance into the University of Texas, but not nearly as much as I anticipated. Constantly applying for scholarships and not receiving them wasn’t good for my morale, but I still had hopes that my college experience would be worth it. As a freshman at the University of Texas, I struggled immensely with my sense of self. Leaving my tight-knit friendships to start new ones was not an easy task, and I kept falling into situations with people I had little in common with, often feeling like a mismatched outsider. I eventually began isolating myself and spending most of my time alone. Not knowing what I wanted to major in was one of the main sources of my stress and anxiety. Being at a school where everyone seemed so accomplished and driven affected my self-esteem as I felt I had no sense of direction in comparison. While I still have special moments from my time at UT, I felt the school wasn’t a good fit at the time, and I returned to Dallas to reassess my situation.

I was led to the University of Texas at Arlington because I was drawn to a major in Visual communications. I was excited and hopeful that I’d finally found something I felt I could excel in. While the program showed promise at first, other concerns with my environment and experiences on campus were proving that it may not be in the best space for me. My best friend, who I lived with and attended school with, was having similar problems. We were both struggling with our own doubts. She eventually stopped attending classes, and I made an appointment with campus ‘counseling and psychological services’ as I couldn’t shake constant anxiety, negative thought patterns and lack of focus. I was able to receive accommodations for classes for the remaining length of the semester and encouraged to meet with a specialist for a comprehensive evaluation.

While I didn’t follow the further recommendations for outside treatment, I did transfer out and take a break from on-campus course instructions. I discovered Texas State’s Digital Media Innovation major online, and thought it was perfect for me. Now that I’m full major status in this program, my mind hasn’t changed and I still enjoy this degree path. Unfortunately, I still struggle on and off with my mental health. Though I have met with campus counseling services on some occasions, other priorities have made it difficult for me to maintain consistency, as well as get officially diagnosed and treated. Mental health isn’t as stigmatized these days and is considered a priority, and while I wholeheartedly agree, not much can be done when life gets in the way. On a positive note, I’ve since taught myself self-care, and while I still fluctuate, I feel I have mentally matured enough to be able to manage my symptoms on my own for the time being. Also, being at Texas state, I’ve learned from interacting with students in this environment that not everyone has everything figured out, and that it’s ok. The current global pandemic we’re facing definitely makes managing mental health tricky for everyone, but knowing that we’re all in this together is a big source of comfort to me.