College Campuses See More Student with Mental Health Issues

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As more young people with mental health issues are enrolling in college, the number of severe mental illness cases being reported among college students has risen compared to a decade ago.

John C. Guthman, director of student counseling at Hofstra University, and colleges reported the findings of their research study Thursday at the American Psychological Association 2010 annual meeting in San Diego.

Guthman and colleagues noted that their observations appear to be in line with what mental health professionals have observed and reported anecdotally in recent years: the use of prescription medications by students to treat psychiatric illness has also risen significantly over the past decade.

Guthman and colleagues analyzed diagnostic records concerning nearly 3,300 undergraduate and graduate students who had sought college counseling at some point in the 10 years between 1997 and 2009 for information concerning mental disorders, suicidal tendencies and behavioral reports.

The researchers found that over the years most students had been diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders. On average, the nature of these cases had remained relatively mild over time.

There has been a slight rise in the number of in-counseling students who were diagnosed with a single mental disorder, bumping up from 93% in 1998 to 96% in 2009.

The percentage of students who sought counseling for moderate to severe depression had risen over the years, from 34% to 41%.

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The percentage of student in counseling who have been prescribed psychiatric medications for depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity has risen from 11% in 1998 to 24%in 2009.

The percentage of students in counseling who reported having had suicidal thoughts during the first two weeks of treatment was found to have declined over the decade, from 26% in 1998 to just 11% by 2009.

Although the study team did not pinpoint exactly what accounts for the apparent changes, Guthman offered up some theories.

"First of all, maybe expectations are such that in general more people are attempting to get a college degree, as it's become more essential to employment," he said. "It could also be that colleges are seen as more supportive environments, and there is more outreach to help students than a decade ago."

"It could also be that medications have improved, and students that may not have been able to go to campus a decade back are now able to function well enough to go and succeed," Guthman added. "Or it could be a function of the national health-care crisis -- that folks just aren't able to access support in other areas of their life, and so they seek help when they get on a college campus."

More information

For more on college campuses and mental health, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

SOURCES:
John C. Guthman, Ph.D., faculty, department of psychology, and director, student counseling, division of student affairs, Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.; Lawrence Marks, Ph.D., staff psychologist, Counseling Center, University of Central Florida; Aug. 12, 2010, presentation, American Psychological Association annual meeting, San Diego

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