The Canary in the Coal Mine: Mental Illness in College Students

NPR has great article on the mental health “epidemic” in colleges, inspired by The Stressed Years of Their Lives by Dr. Anthony Rostain, which looks at the mental health crisis among college students.

College students, like other demographics, are seeing major increases in mental illnesses. Among the rather depressing (no pun intended) statistics:

  • 44% of college students report symptoms of depression, but 75% of those students do not seek help.
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among college students.
  • 80% of students report that they feel stressed on a daily basis.
  • 9% contemplated suicide in the past year.

Why is this jump so acute among college students? In the NPR interview, Dr. Rostain notes that there are a variety of new stresses an impacts on college students today, including a post 9/11 world, the remnants of the great recession, the rise of social media, school shootings, etc. These have all led to an explosion in depression and anxiety, as has the increased pressures which college students face to succeed.

Speaking broadly, I think, unfortunately, that this rise in mental illness among college students is reflective of what is to come. We know that mental illness rates are rising across the board – but we also know that those increases are sharpest among young adults, and sharper still among the youngest of those surveyed.

This has potentially devastating implications as this generation continues to shift into the real world and the workplace. Combine this with the rapidly exploding shortage of mental health practitioners, and the unabated rise of suicides…and we’ve got a big problem. One which will dramatically effect all of our lives.

Fundamentally, I continue to believe that this is a problem which goes well beyond the boundaries of normal public policy. There are things we absolutely must do to expand treatment, access and affordability so that Americans can get the help they need and deserve, no question. But we have to ask ourselves the broader questions: What is causing this rise of depression and anxiety?

These are real issues, and important questions, and ones which must be addressed if we are ever to truly be able to reduce the rates of mental illness and stress which are so prevalent in modern society today. Do I have the answers? Hell no. But I know it’s a question we have to ask.

Bringing this back to where we started: We shouldn’t look at the rising rates of mental illness in college students as something which is occurring in isolation or among a generation which simply hasn’t entered the real world. Given the rise of mental illness across the board, and particularly among young adults, we have to acknowledge that rising mental illness rates in younger demographics has the potential to effect this entire world. What kind of pressures will my children face? Your grandchildren?

Pay attention to this one. It will effect all of us in the future.

 

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