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Student Stress, Anxiety, and Mental Trouble

Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. ...

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association. [actually 14.3%, according to http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ACHA-NCHA-II_ReferenceGroup_ExecutiveSummary_Spring2014.pdf ] ...
Anxiety has become emblematic of the current generation of college students, said Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. ...
“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Dr. Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying....”
Indeed, Dr. Locke and his colleagues at Penn State, who have tracked campus counseling centers nationwide for six years, have documented a trend that other studies have noted: Students are arriving with ever more severe mental-health issues. ...
According to federal statistics, just 59 percent of students who matriculated at four year colleges in 2006 graduated within six years.
- Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers, by JAN HOFFMAN, MAY 27, 2015, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/anxious-students-strain-college-mental-health-centers/


Anxiety and depression appear to be common among American students:

A survey of more than 123,000 students at 153 colleges by the American College Health Association in 2013 found that more than half experienced overwhelming anxiety and about a third felt deep depression during the academic year.
- Marc Brackett, Today’s Students May Be Emotionally Unprepared, NYT, June 22, 2016


According to a 2013 survey by the American College Health Association, 57 percent of female and 40 percent of male college students reported feeling overwhelmingly anxious, while 33 percent of females and 27 percent of males reported feeling seriously depressed. The association also found that suicide rates in young adults had tripled since the 1950s, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimating that a quarter of college students have had suicidal thoughts.
- Ashton Katherine Carrick, Drinking to Blackout, NYT, Sept. 19, 2016


An update on college student anxiety:

More than half of all college students report feeling “overwhelming anxiety” and over a third feel “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”
- Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Wallace, For Freshmen, Campus Life Poses New Risks, NYT, Aug. 17, 2016, citing Undergraduate Students (National College Health Assessment, Fall 2015)


“I don’t know if it’s related to the way we parent, I don’t know if it’s related to the media or the pervasive role of technology—I’m sure there are a lot of different factors—but what I can tell you is that every campus I know is investing more resources in mental health,” he says. (Data confirm this.) Maybe it’s the pressure of school, he says, but maybe it also has to do with a welcoming gate. “Students are coming to campuses today with mental-health challenges that in some instances have been diagnosed and in some instances have not. Maybe, in previous eras, those students would not have been coming to college.” He pauses thoughtfully. “That’s all to the good, in terms of society, because it means that we are bringing in people to be productive and capable and supporting them.”
- Nathan Heller, THE BIG UNEASY: What’s roiling the liberal-arts campus?, The New Yorker, May 30, 2016


Thirty-nine percent of college students have gone binge drinking at least once in the previous month. Half of them use illicit drugs. The sexual culture on campuses is morally clouded, at best. One in four students has an S.T.D., according to one survey, while another shows a discrepancy between how male and female students understand sexual relationships: 66 percent of women say they are in a “committed” partnership, while only 38 percent of men say so. These statistics all feed into what the education reporter Craig Bandon calls “The Five-Year Party.”

And when it comes to offensive behavior, one rarely hears students critique or police pop music that is riddled with abusive-sounding insults, mostly about women. Profanity, in general, doesn’t seem to be something students worry about. Walk through a crowded cafeteria and curse words pop up gratuitously among students as if vocabulary has failed them. When I say, “Hey, ease up on the language, O.K.?” they look at me with incomprehension, not realizing they’ve said anything offensive.

College officials won’t tell students to avoid this kind of horrible stuff, though. Establishing behavioral codes that curtail hookup culture and profanity — those old-fashioned proprieties — are [sic] sexist and puritanical, we are told.

- Mark Bauerlein, Why Halloween at College Is So Frightening, NYT, Oct. 28, 2016 (Bauerlein is an English professor at Emory University, yet somehow fails to make his predicate agree with his subject when writing "Establishing... are...." It is not clear there is any basis for his claim that half of college students use illicit drugs. The source he cites reports that as of 2013, "annual prevalence of use of any illicit drug was nearly equivalent for college students (39%) and the noncollege respondents (40%).")


Seeing the growing insecurity of the working class, not to mention the poor, parents are determined to keep their kids on the right side of the income gap. They see the way to do that is providing ever more education and ever larger inheritances. Thus, if they can possibly afford it, they select the best private schools, trainers to give their children swimming, tennis, music, art, and every other sort of lesson, and make sure they participate in the requisite number of team sports and other extracurricular activities.

The children have no time left in their jam-packed days to explore their own interests or to read books that aren’t assigned in school—or just to lie in the grass, look at the clouds, and daydream. Instead, they fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day and wake to get on the treadmill again. A shy or introverted child is not acceptable, so some children might need the modern equivalent of charm school, which is often some sort of treatment for a putative psychological disorder. By the time some children are in high school, they’ve acquired a flotilla of private tutors to coach them in college entrance exams, and they’ve been trained in how to write exactly the right sort of essay, beginning with a proper topic sentence.

All of this takes an enormous amount of work and attention by the parents, not to mention serious money. And, I believe, it creates an enormous amount of anxiety in the children, who learn well enough that everything seems to depend on their performance, and that they’re in competition with similar children in the same class.

- Marcia Angell, Why Be a Parent?, NY Review of Books, Nov. 10, 2016


It is widely believed that the demand for mental health services in college is growing at an unprecedented pace. is belief is based on widespread anecdotal reports from clinicians, student surveys, surveys of counseling center directors, and a handful of data-driven reports from individual counseling centers.
To examine this question systematically from a national perspective, CCMH conducted a supplemental membership survey in November 2015 that asked counseling centers to provide the following specific data points over the last five academic years between 2009-2010 and 2014-2015: (1) total institutional enrollment during the Fall semester, (2) total number of students seeking services at the counseling center, and (3) the total number of attended appointments in the counseling center. Ninety-three CCMH members (out of a total of 120 responses) were able to provide complete data for both 2009-2010 and 2014- 2015 academic years. These 93 cases were used for the following five-year trend analysis.

The number of enrolled students, students seeking counseling services, and attended appointments were averaged across institutions, and the percentage of change was calculated for each data point. Results indicated that, on average over the last 5 years, institutional enrollment grew by 5.6%, the number of students seeking services increased by 29.6%, and the number of attended appointments increased by 38.4%. In other words, the number of students treated by counseling centers grew at more than 5x the rate of institutional enrollment and the number of attended appointments grew at more than 7x the pace of institutional enrollment.
- Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2015 ANNUAL REPORT, p. 7


You might say Ms. Fader struck a nerve. “If you’re a human being living in 2017 and you’re not anxious,” she said on the telephone, “there’s something wrong with you.” ...
According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. ...
To Kai Wright, the host of the politically themed podcast “The United States of Anxiety” from WNYC, which debuted this past fall, such numbers are all too explicable. “We’ve been at war since 2003, we’ve seen two recessions,” Mr. Wright said. “Just digital life alone has been a massive change. Work life has changed. Everything we consider to be normal has changed. And nobody seems to trust the people in charge to tell them where they fit into the future.” ...
Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, whose “My Age of Anxiety” helped kick off the anxiety memoir boom three years ago, urged people to pause, not for deep cleansing breaths, but for historical perspective.

“Every generation, going back to Periclean Greece, to second century Rome, to the Enlightenment, to the Georgians and to the Victorians, believes itself to be the most anxious age ever,” Mr. Stossel said.
- ALEX WILLIAMS, Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax, NYT, JUNE 10, 2017


Almost a decade ago, faculty at Stanford and Harvard coined the term “failure deprived” to describe what they were observing: the idea that, even as they were ever more outstanding on paper, students seemed unable to cope with simple struggles. “Many of our students just seemed stuck,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult.”

They soon began connecting the dots: between what they were seeing anecdotally — the lack of coping skills — and what mental health data had shown for some time, including, according to the American College Health Association, an increase in depression and anxiety, overwhelming rates of stress and more demand for counseling services than campuses can keep up with.

It was Cornell that, in 2010 after a wave of student suicides, declared that it would be an “obligation of the university” to help students learn life skills.
- JESSICA BENNETT, On Campus, Failure Is on the Syllabus, NYT, JUNE 24, 2017


Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen [born between 1995 and 2012] as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
- JEAN M. TWENGE, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, The Atlantic, SEPTEMBER 2017


In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase — to 62 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2011 — of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. Surveys that look at symptoms related to anxiety are also telling. In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.

Those numbers — combined with a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they return to school each fall — come as little surprise to high school administrators across the country, who increasingly report a glut of anxious, overwhelmed students. ...
The more she looked for explanations, the more she kept returning to two seemingly unrelated trend lines — depression in teenagers and smartphone adoption. ... Since 2011, the trend lines increased at essentially the same rate. In her recent book “iGen,” and in an article in The Atlantic, Twenge highlights a number of studies exploring the connection between social media and unhappiness. “The use of social media and smartphones look culpable for the increase in teen mental-health issues,” she told me.
- BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS, Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?, NYT, OCT. 11, 2017


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