Cynthia Persily, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dr. Persily is the CEO of Highland Hospital in Charleston, WV
In the last week, my husband and I dropped off both of our kids at college. I have been so impressed with the focus that both of their schools have on wellness and mental health. At my daughter’s university, we attended freshman parent orientation. During the course of two days, we heard about how to help our kids become independent, but also how to recognize if they were suffering from any of the common issues that are noted during the college years—anxiety, depression, stress related illnesses, and substance abuse. Why is the recognition of mental health problems an important consideration for college age young adults?
Last year, the American College Health Association published results of the National College Health Assessment. The over 20,000 students who responded to this survey reported that:
- 56% had felt overwhelming anxiety in the last 12 months
- 33% felt so depressed that it was difficult to function at some point during the last 12 months
- 8% seriously considered suicide during the last 12 months
These statistics are cause for concern. Why are these problems becoming more prominent in college age young adults? Some experts cite the pressure to succeed as one contributor. Others cite fear of the unknown as a factor. Still others point to social media—while young people use social media to gain support instantaneously from their peers worldwide, social media may overwhelm them when they are experiencing stress. As they look at their friends posting all about their fun and carefree lives, young people may move deeper into isolation, and feel worse about their lives. Instead of realizing that social media postings are the “highlight reel” of their peers’ lives, young people experiencing anxiety, depression, or stress may think “what’s wrong with me?’ and sink deeper into despair.
Most colleges are now putting in place resources to help students. However, in order for those resources to be effective, students have to seek them out. Anyone who has experienced depression or anxiety, or who has experienced this with a family member or friend knows that it is often difficult to reach out for help. So, college campuses are also teaching parents, faculty, and peers how to recognize when a friend is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. These efforts are paying off, as a Center for Collegiate Mental Health study from the 2012-2013 school year found that 48 percent of students had sought counseling for mental health concerns, up from 42 percent during the 2010-2011 school year.
Parents, peers, mental health professionals, and college and university staff can work together to make a difference for a student who is in distress. At the Highland companies, we do this every day. The focus on mental health in our young people is important for their future and ours.