Anxiety, Depression Drive College Students To Utilize Mental Health Centers

By Britni de la Cretaz 10/14/16

A recent study found that rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise amongst college students. 

Anxiety, Depression Drive College Students To Utilize Mental Health Centers

College students are seeking help for mental health issues at an increasing rate, and schools are trying to find solutions to meet the demand.

A 2016 survey of 95,761 students by the American College Health Association found that nationwide, 17% of college students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems in the past year, and 13.9% were diagnosed with or treated for depression. That is up from 11.6% for anxiety and 10.7% for depression in the 2011 survey.

Anxiety, depression, and academic stress are the main issues that drive young people to utilize counseling services, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health located at Penn State University, which collects data from students who use mental health services on their campuses. 

These mental health concerns, particularly depression, can be linked to heavy or problematic drinking in college students. A 2012 study found that depression symptoms correlated with alcohol consumption. The study showed that self-reported heavy, problem drinkers experienced significantly higher depression inventory scores than all other groups.

This finding is backed up by a study that described patterns of depression and alcohol use disorder among young adults in college, by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Studies. That study found that “a substantial fraction of college youth are experiencing poor mental health—at any given time approximately five percent—and that these youth are at high risk for alcohol abuse, with depressed young women at highest risk.”

But the students with poor mental health and/or depression who reported drinking also reported having more issues and problems as a result of their alcohol use: 29% reported falling behind in their school work; 14% reported having unsafe sex, 12% reported vandalizing property and 23% reported having five or more harms from drinking. These levels are all higher than among their peers who did not have poor mental health.

“Co-occurring patterns of depression and alcohol abuse are not surprising,” said Elissa R. Weitzman, a study author. “But this extra risk for abuse among depressed youth in college, and especially among young women, is troubling given the heavy drinking norms in college. College youth who suffer from depression may be especially vulnerable to complications with alcohol.” 

Weitzman says that those findings are “a warning sign for families and for colleges—to offer extra support around drinking issues to youth who may be prone to depression.” And colleges are indeed trying to make that happen: many are expanding their counseling services, including installing 24-hour crisis hotlines for students in need.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.