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Mental health issues are taking a toll on students – here’s what can be done

Are mental health issues spiralling out of control among university students? Source: Shutterstock

Kate Aschoff was studying at Victoria University of Wellington in 2017 to complete her major in Sociology, along with a minor in Theatre.

But her path towards completion didn’t get off to a good start – writing on The Spinoff, Aschoff explained that she had already experienced depression in her early teens after the suicide of a school friend, and had bounced “from counsellor to counsellor, from medication to medication” prior to starting university.

There, Aschoff was unable to keep up with pre-readings, felt “spaced out in a sea of 400 other undergrads” in her lecture, had anxiety attacks in the bathrooms and would feel overwhelmed at not knowing what had happened in class despite being there.

After speaking to her parents and friends, she eventually dropped out.

A crisis?

Mental health issues are a growing problem faced by university students, with anxiety and depression among the most common mental health problems reported by college students, according to reports.

A Reuters report said mental health diagnoses are rising among US college students. The proportion of students from 2009 to 2015 who report having a diagnosis or being treated has gone up for anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic attacks.

On the flipside, they added that there was also a 37 percent higher likelihood of students saying they would seek help in the future if they needed it.

Also echoing the earlier findings is a report by YouGov which said in the UK, one in four students suffer from mental health problems, with depression and anxiety being the commonly reported mental health ailments.  

A study by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) also noted that apart from anxiety and depression, suicidal ideation, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sleep and eating disorders are also highly prevalent in college students.

It isn’t just undergraduate students who are being plagued with mental health problems, but graduate students, too.

This makes it an equally-growing concern as it can not only have a significant impact on academic performance but also their personal lives.

Why do students suffer from mental health problems?

Catharine Munn, Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University opined on University Affairs that while stigma on seeking help for mental health problems appear to be decreasing, typically, students who need the services the most are least likely to seek it.

Within the Canadian context, she wrote: “Bottlenecks are common, given decades of under-funding of mental health and addiction services for children, youth and emerging adults at the federal and provincial level. Thus, students keep flowing in the doors to campus services, but only rarely and slowly flow out to other services, even if they have [a] severe and persistent mental illness.”

Some other takeaways from her article include:

  • The entire campus, institutions and the community beyond the campus need to help students.
  • Addressing whether students have been given sufficient foundation in childhood and adolescence that allows them to survive and thrive in today’s universities and world.
  • To listen to students – this includes parents asking their children how they are, and be prepared for answers that may be not what they want to hear.
  • Examining the educational and health systems and processes to see if they are helpful or harmful to mental health, and how resilient and flexible are they to the needs of youth.

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