Papers, midterms and deadlines may not be the only sources of worry for rising numbers of college students suffering from depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.
A nationwide increase in mental health cases on college campuses, identified by a 2001 Kansas State University study of more than 13,000 students, has left University of Michigan students, faculty and medical facility staff struggling to cope.
Sam Goodin, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, has noticed this rise in psychiatric disorders over his 11 years at the University. Many referrals to his office come from the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, who “are dealing with a huge load right now,” he said. “This would be a normal load for CAPS around midterms.”
Depression and anxiety disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and are related to both genetic and environmental factors. Students who think they may be suffering from these problems can obtain free, confidential mental health screening on Oct. 9, offered by the University of Michigan’s Depression Center, MCARE and the Michigan Center for Diagnosis and Referral.
“We see students who have unbelievable personal problems related to depression illness,” said Nursing School Prof. Bonnie Hagerty, whose research focuses on depression.
These students often cannot keep up with academic work, failing tests or not turning in assignments. Some sit alone in their rooms crying instead of going to class and may even contemplate suicide, Hagerty said.
Any student can have a bad day or even a bad week, but mental health disorders differ by lasting longer than two weeks and interfering with normal function, she said.
The rise in cases results in part from better medication, Goodin said, which has helped more high school students with psychological difficulties get to college. Also, greater awareness has encouraged more students to seek help, he said.
More serious problems related to societal factors may also play a role. “Everyone’s under more stress than they were 10 years ago,” Hagerty said.
She attributes the rise to more family disintegration, greater academic pressure and more students who work or raise children while pursuing a college degree.
Chemistry Prof. Brian Coppola said an increased focus on success and career exacerbates anxiety among students.
“People feel that at younger and younger ages, if you make a single misstep you’re damaging your career potential,” he said.
Recent University graduate Yolanda Cole echoed Coppola’s views. Several of her friends in college suffered from mental health issues.
“They put so much pressure on themselves,” Cole said. “A lot of the time they were trying to live up to their parents’ expectations.
“A lot of times they just needed someone to talk to. I think it added to their depression not to have an outlet.”
Some went to CAPS for help, but some failed to seek assistance and one even had to leave school, she said.
In an effort to better manage mental health on campus, the University will construct the nation’s first depression center, a $38 billion project approved by the University regents in 2001. The 106,500-square-foot center is set to open in 2006.
The center will integrate both treatment and research, representing an interdisciplinary effort among many University departments, said Hagerty, who serves on the center’s steering committee.
The increase in cases of mental health disorders will likely remain taxing for the University, however.
“The University does a fine job for what they’re able to do,” Hagerty said. “They’re all doing a good job. We just need more.”