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College Students: Mental Health

Common Mental Health Illnesses

Mental health affects all humans around the world, but is more prevalent in college communities because of the unique and stressful environment college students are in. Across the world, one in every seven to eight people live with a mental health disorder. These disorders affect thinking, emotional regulation, and behavior of those who live with them. There are many different kinds of mental illnesses and disorders and many of them have great treatment options and a strong path to recovery with the correct treatment and support.


What are the most common mental illnesses and disorders in college students?

Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders affect over 301 million people, including over 60 million children and young people. In simple terms, anxiety is having excessive fear and worry related to various behavioral or environmental disturbances. Much of the time, the situations that trigger anxiety may not be severe, but to the individual suffering anxiety, it may be crippling. Symptoms are often severe enough to cause panic attacks, distress, and impairment on day to day functioning. Anxiety takes many forms. The main forms of anxiety include the following: 

Generalized anxiety disorder: anxiety about generalized things and situations that often causes extreme worry and may lead to panic attacks/panic disorder or social anxiety disorder if not treated properly

Panic disorder: panic attacks, as panic attacks are the most extreme form of anxiety and usually involve a physical aspect to it as individuals can experience uncontrollable shaking, nervous system issues, vomiting, headaches, mood swings, and more

Social anxiety disorder: excessive fear in social situations, going out with friends/family, meeting new people, asking questions or approaching strangers, going on dates, presenting in class or at a job, and various other social situations

Separation anxiety disorder: excessive fear or anxiety about being separated from those that share a deep emotional bond with the person suffering from the disorder; this can include parents, family, friends, significant others, and other individuals

Depression: Over 300 million people currently live with depression, including dozens of millions of children and teenagers. Depression is very different from usual mood changes and short lived emotional responses to specific situations. ​During a depressive episode, the person experiences depressed mood (feeling sad, angry, moody, or empty) or a loss of pleasure or interest in activities, for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Several other symptoms are also present, which may include poor concentration, feelings of excessive guilt or low self-worth, hopelessness about the future, loneliness, withdrawal from friends and activities, thoughts about dying or suicide, disrupted sleep, changes in appetite or weight, and feeling especially tired or low in energy. People with depression are at an increased risk of suicide, especially in their teens and young adults years. The first sign a college student is battling with depression is often their withdrawal from friends and activities they used to enjoy being a part of. Effective treatment does exist including therapy, medication, support groups, workshops, and a variety of other resources. 


Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is more common than people think. It's not widely talked about with college aged students, but it does exist. ​People with bipolar disorder experience alternating depressive episodes with periods of manic symptoms.  During a depressive episode, the person experiences depressed mood and feels sad or has a loss of pleasure or interest in activities.  Manic symptoms may include anger, irritability, increased activity or energy, and other symptoms such as increased talkativeness, racing thoughts, anxiety, increased self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, and the need for reckless behavior.  Treatment does exist and it's important to educate college students and school staff on bipolar disorder because of the lack of education and knowledge surrounding it. A lot of people can correctly define depression or anxiety, but few can correctly define bipolar disorder.

Eating Disorders: Eating disorders can occur at any age, however they are more common and prevalent in college aged students. They are more common in women, but men can also have eating disorders as well. The challenges of college life and the added pressure of fitting in, mixed with the standard that young people feel they need to meet based off of social media can greatly affect a teenager or young adults mental health, body image, and self esteem. Sometimes, this leads to an unhealthy addiction of trying to fix their appearance which made lead to the development of an eating disorder. It's important to understand the difference between strange eating habits and an eating disorder. College students are known for their strange eating habits including eating late at night, eating quick and unhealthy meals, and going out to fast food places for food, however, strange eating habits don't mean an eating disorder is developing. An eating disorder is diagnosed when unhealthy eating behaviors are occurring over time, often becoming dangerous and unmanageable. This often ties in with self esteem issues, a need to control their weight, and body positivity problems. Eating disorders are very much treatable under the correct treatment program and doctor observations.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is not something that is often discussed with college students, but it can be common. Sexual assault, hazing, bullying, substance abuse and car accidents, and various other serious events can cause a college student to develop PTSD. PTSD often follows exposure to a horrifying or serious event or situation such as those listed above. PTSD often causes someone to constantly relive the traumatic event in their mind, avoid memories or the situation as a whole, endure persistent fear or anxiety around the situation or other similar situations. Using a car accident as an example, if a student is involved in a car accident, even minor, PTSD may develop which can cause a student to fear driving again, make driving errors out of fear of another car accident, and can add on anxiety which may develop into an anxiety disorder.

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