Study shows mental health issues rise among college students

By Cal Colgan |
Top Photo by Devon Schlegel
Middle Photo by Cal Colgan
Bottom Photo by Philip C. Sunkel IV

Mark Barber finds it very hard to make close friends.

The Flagler College alumnus and graduate student at Syracuse University said he suffers from pervasive developmental disorder, a mental condition similar to Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Diagnosed with the disorder when he was 7, Barber said Flagler’s small-school atmosphere helped him to cope with his poor people skills.

“What I found about Flagler is that it’s a very relaxed atmosphere and most of the students don’t have any pretensions about who they are,” said Barber, 21.

Barber is part of a growing trend in colleges across the country.

A report by the American Psychological Association in August said that mental health issues are more common amongst college students than they were 10 years ago. The study said more incoming students are arriving on campus with pre-existing conditions and a willingness to seek help for their emotional problems.

Dr. Glenn Goldberg, Director of Counseling Services at Flagler College

Dr. Glenn Goldberg, Director of Counseling Services at Flagler, agrees that the instances of young people coming to college with depression and anxiety are increasing. Goldberg said part of the reason for this trend is that there are better medications for people with mental disorders.

“There’s more anti-depressant options, there’s more anti-anxiety options, there’s more options for people who have even more severe forms of psychological problems,” he said. “[P]eople who maybe at one point couldn’t deal with college, now they’re on these medications, and now they can come to college,but it doesn’t eliminate what they’re having to deal with.”

Karen Selig, Clinical Director of Psychological Services of St. Augustine, Inc., said that she has seen many college students over the years, but she believes that the rise in emotional issues amongst college students is a symptom of a national stress. She said that the economic recession has caused a rise in the amount of people with mental disorders.

“I think it’s a general anxiety we’re seeing,” she said.

Caitlin McKie, 21, said that the stress she encountered in her freshman year caused her to fail some of her classes. The Flagler junior and English major said she has obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. McKie said her OCD sometimes prevented her from getting her work done in high school.

“I would tap my pencil on the paper, for instance, and I would have to do it over and over and over, so if I was taking a test or something that was timed, I would just get distracted,” she said.

McKie said that she did go to Flagler’s counseling services, but like her old psychiatrist, she felt that she didn’t need to keep seeing them. Instead, she seeks the help of her family doctor.

“[W]e talk about stuff as if she were a therapist, and she prescribes the medicine,” McKie said.

McKie said that since she has switched her major from communications to English, she doesn’t experience the same level of stress she did in her freshman year. But although her ability to cope with her disorder has improved, her depression has occasionally hurt her social skills.

“I’ve lost friends who can’t handle being around me because I get really depressed . . . and a lot of people don’t want to be around that sometimes,” she said.

Like McKie, Barber used has shied away from professional advice. Although he saw a psychotherapist as a child, Barber now relies mostly on self-discipline to deal with his disorder. He said he began to build up his will power when he had a panic attack during one of his classes at Flagler.

“I sort of vowed right then and there not only to never go to counseling, but to never have [a panic attack] again on the basis of will power,” he said.

Barber said it has been 12 years since he has been on medication.

“I never felt that medication helped,” he said. “It was . . . ineffective and harmful to who I was, and the fact that I took it and others knew about it made me ashamed in a way.”

Goldberg said that most people try to deal with their problems on their own, but he hopes that people will seek professional help if their emotional stress starts preventing them from being able to function.

“”[T]here’s always that concern that, ‘Gosh, does that mean there’s something wrong with
me? I should be able to do this on my own,'” he said. “That is something that keeps people from
coming, and I would hope that they at least give it a try.”

Goldberg said that the sessions at Flagler’s counseling services are largely confidential. The therapists are not required to report anything they talk about with students in therapy to the college administration, unless the students speak about harming themselves or others. Goldberg said he and his colleagues are also required to report a student’s hospitalization to either the students’ professors or someone in the administration, and oftentimes they will notify the student’s parents.

“At a center like this, the parents have somewhat of a right to know if their son or
daughter’s had to go to the hospital,” Goldberg said.

Selig said students should know they can seek help from a therapist in order to normalize the issues they face.

“You don’t have to be crazy to come to counseling,” she said.

Barber said that he feels lucky that he has made progress with dealing with his disorder, but he still feels a distancing effect between himself and his peers who do not have mental issues. He said he that students should bear with people they initially view as strange or weird.

“Try to help that person open up,” he said. “It’s really been my experience that the people who’ve been my friends [are those who like to get to know me as a person].”

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