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10 Mental Health Conditions that Commonly Plague College Students

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July 10th, 2011

Everyone emotionally and mentally struggles at least once during college, but even individuals with no prior history of mental illness run the risk of losing control under pressure. Mental illness continues to mystify the mainstream, and students already stressed and anxious about classes, relationships, jobs and activities end up suffering from the stigmas just as much as the conditions themselves. But they don’t have to nurture their pain in quiet. More and more individuals (students or not), their loved ones and organizations are speaking up in favor of psychological help in all its forms. The following list represents some of the most common conditions occurring on campuses globally, though by no means should it be considered a comprehensive glimpse at an issue far more broad and complex.

  1. Clinical Depression: At least 44% of college students have reported suffering from some degree of clinical depression — and the number only escalates from there as years tick past. Thanks to prevailing social stigmas regarding psychiatric help, only 23% of victims reported that they’d be comfortable discussing their treatment. Considering the amount of stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and inter- and intrapersonal issues characterizing the college experience, it makes sense that an overwhelming number of students succumb to the symptoms. And, unfortunately, many of the common comorbid conditions and illnesses as well.
  2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Statistics from 2000 reveal that roughly 10% of college students received a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, but in all likelihood the numbers have jumped over the past 11 years. Females suffer from such conditions at a rate of five times more than their male peers, though the numbers may be skewed due to unfair social perspectives regarding men and mental illness. Panic attacks inextricably tie into GAD and related disorders, and the afflicted — regardless of whether or not they attend college — can experience them either spontaneously or based on an external or internal cue. Do keep in mind that not all anxiety disorders manifest themselves via panic attacks, nor are all panic attacks inherently indicative of an anxiety disorder.
  3. Anorexia Nervosa: At least 91% of female college students have attempted to control their weight via extreme dieting, though not all of these cases can be considered anorexia, of course. Bulimia is actually more prevalent on campus, although anorexia kills more of its victims. Between 10% and 25% of total individuals with this tragic eating disorder die either from the disease itself or complications stemming directly from it. As with other diagnoses of its type, anorexia rarely ravages alone. Not only can it exist side-by-side with bulimia, EDNOS or binge eating disorder, it oftentimes settles in as a result of depression, compulsions or severe anxiety. Lifetime statistics show that between 0.5% and 3.6% of American women suffer from this condition at some point in their lives. With eating disorders on the whole, one of the major associated tragedies is the recovery rate. Only around 60% of victims make a full recovery, with 20% making some headway and the remaining 20% not really coming around.
  4. Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia nervosa can either exist as comorbid with anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or EDNOS or on its own, though almost always stems from a mood, anxiety or compulsive disorder rather than flying entirely solo. Roughly 19% of female college students suffer beneath the destructive diagnosis, although males do suffer from it as well. This compares with the 1.1% to 4.2% of women who struggle with bulimia at any point in their lifetime — not just the college years.
  5. Substance Abuse: College males admit to past-year drug abuse at a rate of 40%, compared to the 43% of their un-enrolled peers. Females represent an inverse, with 35% of students abusing drugs versus 33% for those outside of college. A total of 37.5% of full-time students and 38.5% of part-timers admitted to illicit substance abuse. Roughly half of the college demographic engages in destructive alcohol consumption, with 1,700 dying, 599,000 injured, 696,000 assaulted and 97,000 raped or sexually assaulted yearly as a direct result. The reasons for these behaviors are as many and varied as there are individuals to display them, although a desire to fit in, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are frequently to blame.
  6. Suicidal Thoughts and Actions: 7.5 out of every 100,000 college students commit suicide, with males between the ages of 20 and 24 standing as the most at-risk demographic. Graduate students are also more vulnerable, claiming 32% of these tragedies. At least 10.1% of total college kids admitted to seriously contemplating suicide, and 1.4% said they attempted it within the past year. The myriad emotional, mental and physical challenges of college life leave so many overwhelmed by hopelessness, stress and despair. Suicide often — but, of course, not always — represents the extreme end of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, compulsive disorders and other mental health conditions. And the general stigma surrounding the seeking of professional help, particularly amongst men, certainly doesn’t quell the problem any.
  7. Self-Injury: A 2006 study by Princeton and Cornell researchers revealed that 14% of male and 20% of female students repeatedly engaged in some sort of compulsive self-injury. Cutting, burning, and other dangerous releases provide a similar temporary comfort as drug and alcohol abuse. And, understandably, tend to correlate directly with anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors, although single or repeated instances of physical, mental, and emotional abuse as well as lowered self-esteem can factor in at any time as well. 41% of college-aged self-injurers began hurting themselves between the ages of 17 and 22, although the national average is between 14 and 15. Unfortunately, only around 7% of these individuals seek psychological assistance for their torment.
  8. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: OCD afflicts one out of every 40 adults, one out of every 100 children and 250 out of every 10,000 college students. Considering higher education already severely taxes kids without any preexisting mental health conditions, it might prove hellacious to those suffering from the compulsive disorder. If left untreated, sufferers run the risk of succumbing to depression and anxiety (both of which are oftentimes co-morbid with OCD), substance abuse, self-injury or even suicide.
  9. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: It’s difficult to really gauge just how many college students truly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as its symptoms almost always overlap with depressive and anxiety issues — not to mention the fact that both often grow from it. The condition settles in after any number of triggering incidents, but military service and sexual assault (up to and including rape) tend to garner the most attention. Both also impact college students and college-aged as well. An estimated 11% to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are expected to return home with PTSD. At least 20% of college females reported being victimized by rape at some point in their life, and on a national level only 18% actually take it to the authorities. Women under the age of 30.8 (specifically, those in the 16 to 19 range) are the most vulnerable demographic to sexual assault and rape, comprising 80% of reported cases.
  10. Phobias: Whether mild and largely harmless or in need of professional intervention, specific phobias are incredibly common both on and off college campuses. Arachnophobia appears to be the most prevalent, afflicting a staggering 34% of the student populace. The only one with any real relevance or influence on college life was public speaking, which terrified 31%. Surprisingly enough, 18% of respondents said they thought they might greatly benefit from pursuing counseling or other form of psychological assistance.

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