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Mental illness in college can be risky and lead to other complications

February 18, 2017 0 Comments

College life is a great experience, at least most of the time. For lot of students, it is the first taste of freedom. It is a time when they experiment and test boundaries. Friends made in college tend to become lifelong friends, and for many, college is also the time when they start learning the rhythms of adulthood. ­­


Unfortunately, for some students, this phase is also the time when mental illness raises its head.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 75 percent mental illnesses manifest by age 24 – and half show their symptoms by age 14.

College depression

One of the most common mental disorders faced by college students, according to the Mayo Clinic, is college depression. Everyone has bad days – particularly when they are away from home for the first time in a new and challenging environment – but college depression is a serious mental issue, just like other forms of major depression.

One way to distinguish genuine depression from just a bad mood is the length of symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says the symptoms of depression occur almost every day for at least two weeks.

More dangerously, some students may attempt to self-medicate depression by using drugs and alcohol that are addictive. This form of self-medication does not help treat the mental disorder, on the contrary, it can aggravate the situation and can lead to another problem –– addiction. The co-occurrence of mental disorder and addiction is called dual diagnosis that can be difficult to treat.

Finally, when dealing with depression, it is important to remember depressive disorders can give rise to suicidal tendencies, if left untreated.

Specter of suicide

Although the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) reports that younger age groups tend to have a lower suicide rate than older groups – in 2014, the foundation reported adolescents and young adults aged between 15 and 24 had a suicide rate of 11.6, one of the lowest surveyed – suicide is still a regrettable presence on many college campuses.

According to AFSP, suicide kills more teenagers and young adults than all medical illnesses combined and one in 12 U.S. college students makes a suicide plan. Suicide also appears to be a risk that lingers beyond adolescence. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans aged between 15 and 34.

But it is important to understand that mental illnesses are treatable and people should fight out the stigma to seek timely intervention. There are some hopeful signs that people are realizing the need for treatment. A report published by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health in 2015 showed an increasing number of students were seeking mental health services at their colleges.

How to help

The best way anyone can deal with mental illness is getting educated. Earlier this year, the NAMI released a comprehensive guide for college students that provides students and parents with information on mental health disorders, how to identify their symptoms, when to seek help and related subjects like privacy laws.

Also, it’s wise to consider a student’s mental health needs during – and even before – the research process for schools. For a student who had previously received mental health treatment, it might be wise to bring their therapist or other mental health professional into the discussion over what school to attend. Additionally, it is worth researching what sort of mental health services are available at the schools being considered. A school with an understaffed and neglected counseling center might not be the best choice.

Finally, it is worth working out a strategy for the first year away from home. Helping a new student come up with a day-to-day self-care plan to combat feelings of loneliness and being overwhelmed not only helps a young adult adapt to college, it could save their life.

White River Academy is a therapeutic boarding school in rural Utah for boys aged 12 to 17. It provides a structured, compassionate environment for adolescents to realize their full potential while receiving treatment for any difficulties they may be facing. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at news@sovhealth.com.

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