Top Mental Health Issues Facing College Students

Mental health issues are prevalent on college campuses; according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75% of lifetime mental illnesses start by the age of 24. It is important in these situations that students are able to not only recognize symptoms in themselves and their friends, but to know how to deal with it after recognizing there is a problem.

Some of the most common mental health issues present on college campuses include:

  • Suicide & Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating Disorders
  • Addictions
  • ADHD

 

This guide is here for college students to help them recognize symptoms in themselves or others, know what to say/do to help, and easily find helpful resources.

 

SUICIDE & DEPRESSION

Facts – According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

  • Depression affects nearly 5-8 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.

 

Symptoms

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • A feeling of not caring about anything
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Lack of energy
  • Self-loathing
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Whole body aches and pains

 

Signs in Others

  • They no longer want to do things that they used to be passionate about.
  • They have lost or gained at least 5% of their body weight in the last month.
  • They become angry or unusually irritable.
  • They become reckless; more willing to gamble, drive poorly, or try dangerous sports.

 

College students are often told that college will be some of the best years of their lives. The experiences and the people they will meet are built up to a high level. When this level is not met, many can experience feelings of self-doubt, a lack of self-worth, and not being good enough to have the kind of experiences they were told they would have. It is okay to have some of these feelings; it is not until these feelings become a somewhat regular thing that it is important to talk with a professional about them.

These feelings are nothing to be ashamed of! Many college students are under a lot of pressure, stress, and anxiety due to new living conditions, being away from loved ones, and having all new problems to solve and issues to tackle.

 

Getting Help

    • Student Health – Many college campuses have a student health department that is there to help students with all of their problems, issues, and concerns. Theses departments are equipped with many tools to help students find the help they need, or to learn more.
    • Anxiety & Depression Association of America – Find a therapist that can help you cope through your own mental health problems, or help a loved one with their struggles.
    • Psychology Today – Take a 20 minute only test to see if you may be coping with depression. Having the knowledge and understanding is the first step to getting help.
    • American Psychiatric Association
    • Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation

 

 

ANXIETY

Facts  – According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America

  • Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States older than 18 years, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S.
  • Anxiety disorders are very treatable, but only around 1/3 of those suffering actually receive treatment.
  • It is not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression, or vice versa.

 

Symptoms

  • Excessive worrying
  • Sleep problems; inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, waking up with rushing thoughts or the inability to calm down.
  • Irrational fears that feel completely rational
  • Constant muscle tension
  • Chronic indigestion
  • Self-consciousness that gets in the way of special events or even daily activities.
  • Perfectionism
  • Self-doubt
  • Compulsive behaviours
  • Panic attacks
    • Sudden overwhelming fear
    • Heart palpitations
    • Sweating
    • Hot and cold flashes
    • Feeling of choking
    • Derealization
    • Dizziness
    • Numbness in fingers and body

 

Signs in Others

  • You may notice their excessive worrying or irrational thoughts a fears that interfere with everyday life.
  • You may notice or witness compulsive behaviours such as; straightening items, compulsive cleaning, an abundance of hand-washing, etc.
  • You witness a panic attack.

 

Oftentimes anxiety disorders can be confused with the increase of stress college students encounter. It is important to note that stress and anxiety are different; anxiety is far more debilitating to everyday life.

Many college students may not realize it is anxiety they are dealing with; even the physical symptoms can be confused with a physical ailment such as a heart condition or asthma attack.

College students go through a myriad of new, different, difficult, and life changing moments from the time they leave home to start their new lives. It is these big, life-changing moments, that can cause anxiety to really show its true colors.

 

Getting Help

 

 

EATING DISORDERS

Facts- According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD)

  • At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups.

 

Symptoms

According to LearnPsychology.com some of the symptoms found in different types of eating disorders include:

  • Feeling guilty after a meal
  • Defining your measure as a human being by the food choices you make and how much you eat
  • Feeling nervous, anxious and/or tense when faced with unplanned eating (being invited out to eat, etc.)
  • Having trouble being social
  • Excessive exercising to compensate for food consumed
  • Frequent weight fluctuations
  • Yo-yo dieting
  • Very rigid eating and/or exercising schedules
  • Feelings of guilt when eating, especially certain types of foods
  • Emotionally driven eating
  • Occasional purging or binge eating
  • Feeling possessive of your food
  • Categorizing certain foods as “good” or “bad”
  • Drink a large amount of fluids to feel full faster when eating
  • Preoccupation with weight gain
  • Skipping meals
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Use of diet pills
  • Irregular eating patterns

 

  • Anorexia
    • Besides the skeletal appearance, those who suffer from anorexia can face severe health problems. These health problems can range from anemia to irregular periods, to osteoporosis, and even to death. When someone has anorexia, their body is literally being starved to death. Not only does the body not have enough energy to function, but the lack of nutrients causes serious medical complications.
  • Bulimia
    • Bulimia is a serious mental health condition that is especially hard on the digestive system. Repeated vomiting causes long-term damage to the esophagus, mouth, and teeth. Use of laxatives can cause long-term problems with bowel movements, and no matter the purging methods used, bulimics usually suffer from osteoporosis, electrolyte imbalance and low blood pressure.
  • Binge Eating
    • Binge eating is much more than simply overeating on occasion – that’s something all of us do. Binge eating becomes a disorder when it goes from the occasional entire bag of chips during a weekend movie not to an uncontrollable urge that interferes with everyday life. Binge eating can become a serious problem that leads to depression, social isolation, and medical complications such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and joint problems.
  • Orthorexia
    • Orthorexia is the compulsion to avoid eating foods that are perceived to be unhealthy or unpure. Orthorexia might also be defined as an unhealthy obsession with healthy.

What’s the difference between orthorexia and being a picky eater, or someone who is extra careful about what foods they eat? With orthorexia, the desire to avoid eating unhealthy foods is so extreme that it limits potential food selection to a very small amount of foods and/or creates isolation due to intolerance of other people’s eating habits or beliefs. Many people with orthorexia can be found eating the same things for breakfast lunch and dinner for most days of the week.

There may also be a connection of self-worth to the success in keeping up with the “healthy” eating habits, resulting in “punishments” for any mistakes in eating. It should be noted that orthorexia is not a clinical diagnosis under the DSM-5.

  • Yo-Yo Dieting
    • Yo-yo dieting refers to the cycle of losing and gaining weight. Yo-yo dieting often occurs when someone decides to lose weight, is successful, but promptly gains the weight back. They again, attempt to lose weight with another diet, are successful, and gain the weight back another time. This creates an up and down cycle of weight gain and weight loss, which is why it is referred to as yo-yo dieting.
  • Diabulimia
    • This unique form of bulimia is isolated to those with diabetes who are dependent upon insulin. When blood glucose is too high, the cells in the body are actually starving for energy, which results in things like; dropping weight quickly, extreme thirst, and frequent urination.

 

Signs in Others

The signs of an eating disorder can sometimes be difficult to spot, especially in the earliest stages. That’s because someone with an eating disorder often knows that they will be encouraged to eat or otherwise do things that they might not want to do, and so hiding the disorder is a big priority. However, over time an eating disorder becomes much more difficult to hide, especially when someone begins to drop weight – or gain weight – at an alarming rate. A few of the other signs to be aware of are:

  • Tooth decay and/or tooth erosion
  • Change in color of the teeth
  • Skewed body image ideas
  • Secretive food behaviors
  • Consumption of large amounts of food in a very short period of time
  • Purging behavior, such as frequent bathroom trips after meals, unusual use of diuretics and/or laxatives
  • Calluses or scars on hands and wrists due to purging
  • Extreme and rapid weight loss
  • Obsession with calories, weight loss, and food
  • Refusing to eat normal amounts of food or avoiding food altogether
  • Refusing to eat in front of other people
  • Worry over weight gain, however slight
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Excessive exercise
  • Emaciation
  • Dry or yellowing skin
  • Growth of fine hair over entire body
  • Unusual fatigue or lethargy

 

Getting Help

NOTE: Beware of some blogs that promise “inspiration” to overcome an eating disorder. Unfortunately, there are numerous blogs out there that actually promote anorexia, bulimia and other disorders, but try to masquerade as “helpful.”

  • About-Face – This organization exists to educate women and girls on the effect media has on their self-esteem and body image.
  • Academy for Eating Disorders – The primary goal of Academy for Eating Disorders is to provide information about eating disorders through the promotion of research and creation of expert knowledge.
  • ANAD – The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders is a non-profit organization which aims to prevent and stop eating disorders.

 

 

ADDICTIONS

Defining addiction or substance abuse isn’t black and white, and is no longer classified as a person’s “dependence” on a substance, because dependence can be considered a normal bodily response to the use of any product. There are different levels of severity to consider, and these levels are classified as Substance Use Disorders. The American Psychiatric Association has identified a list of eleven criteria, and the number of criteria points that apply to a person determines the level of their Substance Abuse Disorder.

Facts- According to LearnPsycology.com

  • 22.9 % of college students meet the medical definition of drug addiction compared to 8.5% of the general public.
  • 49% of full-time college students drink and/or abuse drugs (illegal and prescription).
  • 95% of college campus violence is connected to alcohol.

 

Symptoms & Signs

It is important for students to learn and understand some of the potential warning signs of addiction and substance abuse, for self-assessment, and to potentially help a friend or family member who may be struggling. The list below includes some of these warning signs:

  • Sustained injuries without explanation or good reason
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Seizures (with no medical history to explain the seizures)
  • Frequent or unusual nosebleeds
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped
  • Unusual neglect with respect to physical appearance
  • Unusual and drastic weight loss/gain
  • Reduced memory and/or concentration ability
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Unusual smells on the body or clothing
  • Shaking or tremors

 

Getting Help

  • Reach out to friends and/or family for support and help finding a professional.
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: This organization provides support for those suffering from substance abuse. The site has information for every stage of addiction, from admitting your issues, to recovery. There is also a directory of programs and services offered in the area.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous : This 12-step program is designed to give alcoholics the opportunity to rebuild their lives and learn to live without alcohol.

 

 

ADHD

Facts- According to the Center for Disease Control

  • As of 2011, 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • There are three different types of ADHD; these different types are diagnosed depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual.
  • The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.

 

Symptoms & Signs

  • Trouble focusing.
  • Trouble remembering things.
  • Trouble completing tasks after beginning.
  • Have difficulty getting things in order with tasks that require organization.
  • Often avoid or delay a task that requires a lot of thought.
  • Easily distracted by activity or surrounding noise.
  • Often leaves seat in meetings or other situations in which it is expected to remain seated.
  • Often feel restless or fidgety.
  • Has difficulty waiting in situations when turn taking is required.

 

Getting Help

When adults are diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they often respond with a feeling of relief rather than dismay. Many have struggled with symptoms since childhood, and receiving a diagnosis tends to place their life experiences into perspective: So that’s why I had such a hard time concentrating in school. And, even better, now they can get treatment.

  • Seek Professional Help From a Doctor
  • Health.Com – This site exists to be a place of discussion and investigation for people who may be struggling with ADHD symptoms. Read articles and get answers to common questions at Health.com
  • HelpGuide.Org – This is a trusted guide to Mental, Emotional, and Social Health issues.

Every opportunity to grow comes with its own set of challenges and if college is anything, it is an opportunity to grow and discover who you are. Being a student is a big undertaking. Never feel ashamed of struggling; we all do it. If you or a friend is experiencing any of these symptoms and feel that there may be a problem, please seek help. Our goal is to help every college student be as successful as possible in walking their own path.