High incidence of mental illness in college aged students causes concerns
With finals just around the corner and student stress at a high, some students and faculty are concerned about the mental health of students during finals week.
With budget cuts, hunger strikes and long lines for mandatory tests, it’s not that hard to imagine that many students and faculty are feeling their stress level rise significantly.
The National Institute on Mental Health estimates that 15 percent of people ages 18-25 have or have had a mood disorder, the most common being major depressive disorder.
The institute also states that of all age groups, those 18-30 have the highest incidence of mental illness, while those over 50 have the lowest incidence of mental illness.
Other severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and anxiety disorders also have their highest rate of incidence among the 18-30 population.
On Sept. 27, 2011, philosophy student Gahren Moradian stood outside the Oviatt Library alleging he had a gun. The campus was ablaze with concerns about late notifications, inadequate responses by CSUN police, yet no concerns were ever explicitly raised about the mental health of students on campus.
“With the exception of (the guman instances) and the lack of specificity in the circumstances leading up to the event, I will say more generally that the campus has a no tolerance policy for weapons, and that we do have staff who are aware and sensitive – but there does need to be a broadening of awareness of health issues in general such as depression so students and faculty can be more aware of signs of trouble,” said Marshall Bloom, a campus psychologist for University Counseling Services (UCS) and the founder of The Blues Project.
The project is a peer-education program that can be taken for three units as a class and dedicated to bringing awareness to issues of depression and suicide, specifically overcoming depression and preventing suicide. The program is sponsored by University Counseling Services and sits alongside two other UCS peer-education programs J.A.D.E (Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating) and Project Date, a program designed to bring awareness to issues of date rape and sexual assault on campus.
“I think (the events) have brought more awareness of mental health issues to certain populations on campus, but that students and faculty do need to look out for signs that students are in distress and be able to report such incidents,” Bloom said.
University Counseling Services states on its website that warning signs of students under distress can include exaggerations of personality traits, changes in weight and unprovoked anger and hostility as well as actual threats of self-harm or harm to others whether spoken or written.
Senior psychology student Ashley Summers agrees mental health issues need to be emphasized on campus.
“I think that most students have a good idea of mental health. I think students try to juggle many things,” she said. “I think students have an experience with mental health issues and stress but don’t always know how to cope.”
It is commonplace on campuses around the United States that many students will not seek help even when they desperately need it.
“I think students don’t seek mental health treatment because there is a stigma against it and students will often self-medicate to avoid seeking treatment even though they are great resources on campus,” said Brianda Hernandez, urban studies and planning major and the current student assistant for the Blues Project.
“Aside from holding special events to bring awareness to mental health issues, I think that faculty along with every department need to be open to finding ways to help their students be open to treatment, even if their problems aren’t life-threatening. I think when you hear something like (the gunman incident) happens, we find out later that the person had a history of mental illness that went untreated,” Hernandez said.
“I also think counseling centers need to be persistent and reach out because it is very important that (students) are (mentally) healthy,” Hernandez added.
Dr. Bloom also agrees that things can be done better, but in a larger sense the culture needs to change.
“I do think there has been an effort to provide services for students that are interested,” Bloom said.
“Students need to be educated for themselves, especially when stress mounts, and be able to perceive that someone’s not behaving the way normally would and be able to get them help before it becomes a problem,” Bloom said.