Rising Rates of Mental Illness Worry Academic Community

Most of the issues covered on my blog are about teenage sexuality. However, this topic is related to a far wider range of material. In this post, Bree Hernandez, an education writer, discusses the spikes in college students reporting depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. Bree provides information on how to get into college through her main website, but also has a certain expertise about the struggles and competitive barriers students today are facing. Here’s what Bree has to say:

An alarming number of today’s college students suffer from mental illnesses that, if left untreated, can lead to tragic consequences. And while many institutions have adopted programs to counsel young men and women with psychological issues, academic experts fear these accommodations are leaving them unprepared for the real world that they must face on their own after graduation.

According to Daily Sundial, men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 are most susceptible to severe mental illnesses such as anxiety and/or schizophrenia. Individuals are also likeliest to suffer from a mood disorder (usually depression) between the ages of 18 and 25. Furthermore, Psych Central contributor Margarita Tartakovsky noted that 75 percent of all individuals with an anxiety disorder experience an onset of the symptoms by the time they reach the age of 22. Since 1997, the number of college students suffering from depression has doubled – and the rate of suicide incidence among collegiate men and women has tripled. A 2006 survey by the American College Health Association found that 45 percent of female college students and 36 percent of male college students were too depressed to carry on with their daily routines – and as a result, many have failed classes and been forced to drop out of school.

For many students, the transition period between high school and college is the primary catalyst for mental illness. Freshman must contend with a number of changes regarding living arrangements, social functions and exposure to a wide variety of different (and often, contrasting) lifestyles. Dr. Gerald Kay of the Wright State University School of Medicine noted that feelings of inadequacy within this new environment, coupled with parental pressure and “academic stressors” brought on by demanding coursework, can cause students to feel depressed and/or anxious. Substance abuse often exacerbates these mental issues. According to most reports, one-fifth of college students use illegal or prescription drugs, while nearly half binge drink. Dr. Kay also said that many of today’s students have pre-existing mental conditions when they enter college. In recent years, advances in psychological treatment and diagnostics have brought many of these cases to light.

If left ignored, mental issues among undergraduates continue to worsen as these students enter graduate school. According to Psych Central, a 2008 study by the Berkeley Graduate Student Mental Health Survey found that 45 percent of grad students suffered from emotional or anxiety-based conditions that significantly hindered their ability to function on a regular basis, both academically and socially. Roughly 10 percent of these students seriously considered killing themselves. Furthermore, a quarter of them were not aware of campus-based counseling programs at their disposal (this was especially true among international students).

Today, virtually every college campus in the United States offers some form of student counseling for individuals who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental disorders. Other accommodations include extra time for taking exams and relaxed attendance expectations for students with diagnosed conditions. However, the majority of students do not seek help because of a perceived social stigma; only 23 percent of students polled in a 2006 survey said they would “feel comfortable” with a close friend knowing they received counseling treatment. Another concern with campus services, University of Wyoming Dean of Students David Cozzens told The Wall Street Journal, is that students receive a substantial amount of psychological attention while they are enrolled – but once they have graduated and entered the job market, that support system is no longer present.

Today, many psychologists urge young people to proactively address their respective mental issues before they develop into full-blown conditions. Hilary Silver, M.S., of Campus Calm told Psych Central that high school graduates should seek treatment prior to their initiation into campus life. In order to establish a strong identity, students should disassociate themselves from their high school personas and determine the goals they wish to reach during college – not just in terms of career, but also personal development and intellectual growth. Dr. Harrison Davis of North Georgia Community College & State University also encourages students to both improve their coping skills and set personal limits in order to avoid falling into depressive or anxious patterns. They should also commit to getting eight hours of sleep per night, and avoid consuming excess amounts of caffeine, alcohol or other stimulants and depressants that will negatively affect their academic performance.

While today’s collegiate population faces a significant amount of academic and social pressure, these stressors can lead to long-term psychological problems if students do not make an effort to mitigate them. Proactive strategies will not only enable students to flourish at the college level, but may also also prepare them for the harsh realities of the “real world.”

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I am glad Karen is raising this issue. My own main concern is that teh stresses of emerging adulthood are, like so many others, framed as “mental illnesses.” Thus, more and more college youth are considered to have some sort of biological and/or genetic defect. The purpose of this tragic view is, in my opinion, to justify “treatment” in the form of psychiatric drugs. The data is clear that large numbers of emerging adults in college are on these drugs, and it is also clear they are dangerous in many ways. AS Karen says, there are so many better ways to support emerging adulthood.

    I have an upcoming book on the subject, called “Leaving Home: The Journey From Birth to Emerging Adulthood.” My video series on the subject is mostly up already. The chapter on psychiatric oppression and leaving home is discussed on this video:




  2. Thank you for your comment and link, John. I’ve admired your work for a long time. If you’re interested in writing something (or providing me an excerpt from your book), I’d love to post another perspective on this issue in a long blog post.

  3. John, thank you for this comment. And, after the horrifying shooting in CT on Friday, quite timely. I’d love to know the You Tube link that will point to all the chapters in the Leaving Home series (the link above refers to its being Ch. 11).

    Here is a compelling article from Huffpost, from a mother of a boy who scares her. It is framed in the language of mental illness, too. Our culture is so fractured, so broken, so encouraging of addiction and violence, that the focus on mental illness so often misses the point.


    I’m very much looking forward to your new book.

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