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... The study, released on Oct. 9 (National Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day), also shows a spike in the number of students with bipolar disorder. ...
Many college students major in despair
Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle
Mar. 9, 2005 08:00 PM
Want to know about depression among college students? Two of the largest and most recent studies suggest that many students are all but majoring in it.
But are they?
A 13-year-long study at Kansas State University showed double the number of students seen with depression, a "huge" surge in suicidal students, and from 1988 to 2001, stress and anxiety eclipsing relationships as the chief issues troubling students.
More alarming-sounding is a 2004 study by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories, claiming that one in three college students has had prolonged bouts of depression; one in four has felt suicidal; and one in seven has felt unable to function because of depression. The study, released on Oct. 9 (National Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day), also shows a spike in the number of students with bipolar disorder. (Abbott makes Depakote, a medication for bipolar and other disorders.)
By the sound of it, college campuses are awash in just-barely-making-it students.
But college counseling experts say this isn't the full story.
It's more multilayered than that, they say, and not quite as grim.
Students getting help
To begin with, there are more college students with mental illnesses, including depression and bipolar disorders, on-campus advisers agree. But, they point out, this is largely because more arrive already diagnosed. "We're seeing more students already aware of their issues and already in treatment, sometimes on meds, and they know they have a history of mental health problems," says Heidi Levine, director of counseling services at State University College at Geneseo, N.Y.
Echoing her is Dr. Michael Herzbrun, coordinator of psychological counseling at St. John Fisher College:
"We do have more depressed (students) on campus, but it's also that they're more willing to talk. Students often know a great deal about the illnesses they're struggling with, and this is a good thing."
As for busier counseling centers, supervisors say that's also true - but this also largely stems from greater understanding and acceptance of mental illnesses.
"Students are not just more able to spot (a disorder), they're more willing to," observes Allan J. Schwartz, senior staff psychologist at the University of Rochester's counseling center. "They'll admit it, knowing campuses know more and are more open to helping them."
Among students, getting help is practically a rite of passage, says Robbie Routenberg, a senior. "It's almost become cool to say you have something, to say you have meds or a label. There is a rise in that."
Another reason for the higher number of students at college with mental health issues: More sophisticated treatments allow them to enroll in college and complete a degree.
"There are so many more effective treatments now, with fewer side effects, that students can come to college now, and sustain, who might not have been able to years ago," says Kathy Scott, who has worked in the field for nearly 20 years and runs the Rochester Institute of Technology's counseling center.
Despite this progress, new problems do exist - lots of them, say those on campuses.
More students in therapy and on medication means more students abruptly quitting both without supervision; or using drugs and alcohol while on medication, "both of which can be disastrous," says Levine.
Some experts believe that modern college students are facing a more intense mix of traditional stressors, says counseling services director Frederica Amstey of Nazareth College.
"Some are dealing with a lot of financial pressure. They have jobs plus heavy academic work - and there is much higher pressure to achieve, far higher expectations," she says.
Let's not forget this, adds Levine: "This is the group that saw the planes crash into the buildings, and that is just way different from anything past generations have experienced."
Many of these students have also grown up with more parental involvement than previous generations, "which may diminish their sense of personal responsibility, and create a more dependent relationship with parents," Amstey observes.
"I think almost all my colleagues would agree we're seeing an increase in the number of students, and with more serious problems. But, it's not a groundswell. Much of it is that the students are willing to walk into our clinics. And we should be proud of that," says Herzbrun.