Years ago, attending college seemed a vibrant time of learning, growing, socializing, and networking among students. Mental health among the college youth was not a cause for growing concern. Now, with the rising issues of violence, unexpected academic pressures and substance abuse, college life could be described by some as the pathway to adolescent anxiety, depression and even suicide and in increasing measures.
A study done by the Student Advisory Committee to the Illinois Board of Higher Education uncovered that based on the 94,000 students they surveyed in 2006, 67% of women and 55% of men reported feelings of hopelessness; 47% of women and 38% of men reported feelings of depression so severe they could not function and 10% of women and 8% of men considered suicide. Another survey conducted by the American College Health Association reported that nearly half of all college students reported feelings of depression so severe they could not function. This marked a 4.6% increase in a 4 year span, according to the study.
Students have been reported to be suffering from a whole slew of mental illness afflictions ranging from the aforesaid depression issues to eating disorders, bipolar disorders, etc. As a result, campuses have seen a range of severe psychological behavior in increasing proportions. Issues such as learning disabilities, self-injury incidents, alcohol and drug abuse, violent acts against peers (notably the Virginia Tech incident), sexual assault and rise of sexual promiscuity, and suicide attempts are becoming more and more common on campus.
The question that remains is why and for what reason? Is there a pattern of living in today’s college student that would make him or her more vulnerable to a mental health illness? What kind of pressures are these students facing to incur clinical depression? What is the makeup of the common college student social spectrum? Do they have friends or confidants, trusted advisors to encourage them or hold them accountable to unwise decision making? All these questions could uncover some of the factors contributing to this widespread problem.
Binge drinking, illicit drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, through the gateway of the “college party scene” has become a major area of concern for parents and faculty. These examples are a result of the fact that so much of today’s society’s values are weighed heavily on feelings or emotions, beauty and materialism, fun without a realistic concept of reality or responsibility. College youth exemplifies these societal values to the fullest. Broken down, consider some of these select issues, the initial feeling or emotion that would come as a result and ultimately, the consequence based on the reality:
Values Based on Feelings or Emotions: The concept: “trust your heart” “what do you feel” Making decisions based not on fact but what “feels” right to them, allowing what they “feel” to dictate their mood, performance, social interactions and day-to-day decision making. The reality: How often do feelings change? What are they based on? When one allows their feelings to drive them, they become subject to them, addicted to them, and to that end, can lead down a very destructive emotional pathway.
Pressures of Beauty and Materialism: The emotions: pride, unhealthy perception of sexuality, frustration, anxiety of what people think of them. The reality: The quest for physical perfection will never be achieved due to our ever aging bodies. The cost of keeping oneself made perfect on the facade is a lot of money, a thing most college students don’t have and there will alway be someone better looking. It is a frustrating thing to try to worry about and a major source of discouragement.
Fun Without a Realistic Concept of Reality or Responsibility – Binge Drinking and Substance Abuse: The Statistics: Nationally, 23% of college students are “extreme drinkers” while 20% of students claim to be non-drinkers. The Reality: Death, Injury, Assault, Sexual Abuse, Unsafe Sex, Drunk Driving, Academic Problems, Health Problems and Suicide Attempts, Vandalism, Property Damage, Police Involvement, Alcohol Abuse and Dependence. Nearly 25% of students suffer academic consequences such as missing class and receiving overall lower grades as a result of drinking.
Experts say that drinking can only worsen or encourage symptoms of mental illness, and some researchers have determined that alcohol and substance abuse can bring about mental illness in a vulnerable individual.
Recognizing that academic pressures brought on by unexpected demands of professors can play a role in the stressors of college life, it doesn’t seem enough to precipitate the severity of the crisis, however. The emotional, unbalanced priority scale, life-focus and decision-making abilities that today’s average college student is known to display can play a major factor to the mental illness crisis. What is the solution? Some researchers say that educating students on mental health disorders and symptoms can encourage early treatment, which is true. However, it does not offer a root-deep solution, and, invariably, makes them more dependent on prescribed medication.
Educating students early on solid ethics and values, engraining them with a sense of a healthy conscience to make wise choices is the preventative measure that peels this away by the root.
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