I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m straight up crazy. And according to a recent University-released study, chances are you are, too.
Perhaps “crazy” isn’t the politically correct term, but it certainly describes how I feel. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression a few years ago and have struggled with it even longer than that. But statistics on college students’ mental health suggest I’m in good company, which is maybe why mental health is such a hot topic in the media these days. Unfortunately, much of this dialogue has taken the form of fear-mongering and profiling. This type of debate overshadows the more silent struggle going on in dorm rooms across the country in shockingly high numbers.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, out of the 20 people in your discussion section, four students will experience a depressive episode before they are 24 years old. Worse yet, the second leading cause of death among college students is suicide. That’s pretty messed up.
Here at the University, the statistics are similar. Depression and anxiety are by far the most prevalent problems. According to Counseling and Psychological Services, between 50 and 60 percent of students who come in report feeling depressed and 14.9 percent have been clinically diagnosed. Additionally, the latest release of the multi-part College Student Mental Health Survey found that 29 to 33 percent of University students report drinking more than they should, while 63 to 66 percent report mild to severe sleep disturbances. All evidence points to us being a pretty unhappy bunch.
Allegedly, these college years are our glory days. We’re supposed to be sitting in proverbial hallowed halls discussing Nietzsche, getting inebriated and having exciting, frequent and experimental sex. Surely that’s enough to make anyone happy. So what the hell is wrong with us?
Anyone who has sat through an introductory psychology class knows that many elements of mental health are biologically determined. Speaking as someone who hails from a lineage rift with crazies, I understand better than anyone that the role of genetic inheritance shouldn’t be underestimated. However, as with any other biological process, the impact of the environment around you shouldn’t be overlooked either.
But genetics aren’t everything. On a cutthroat campus where top minds compete for top grades and in an economy where job competition is fierce, the pressure to achieve can be overwhelming. And data confirms this theory: The College Student Mental Health Survey reported that 74 to 75 percent of its respondents feel concerned about their ability to succeed academically. Mass media and pop culture do little to support our already strained self-esteem considering that an outrageous 73 to 76 percent reported feeling somewhat dissatisfied with their weight. The point is, there’s plenty to worry about and, being University students, we do so with overachieving proficiency. There’s no denying that mental wellbeing is a huge issue that must be dealt with.
The University is doing its part to help us. CAPS receives an annual budget of $2.16 million and has pioneered several studies to better understand the problems plaguing average students, the latest of which will be released early next week. And outreach programs like MiTalk, where students can screen themselves and get more information about the University’s mental health services, at least show that an effort is being made to reach students, even if their effectiveness is questionable.
Sure, the University could be doing more, but the truth is, so could we. I’ve always assumed that this topic of conversation was neglected because those of us who deal with mental health issues are too few and far between. But that’s clearly not the case. There’s no excuse for our silence. If this were a situation where one in four students were suffering from racism or gender discrimination, there would be a stampede to the Diag to shout and rally.
It’s also a matter of priorities. While I’ve spent hours debating the merits (or more accurately, the lack thereof) of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” I can count on one hand the number of conversations I’ve had about mental illness with fellow college students. And those of you studying for that Statistics 350 exam and incessantly talking about it are only worsening the problem.
The responsibility for starting the conversation is ours. Promoting open and honest dialogue rather than suffering in silence is the first step toward progress. It is our job to question the conditions fueling this state of crisis and become advocates for change.
Kate Truesdell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.