US colleges and universities are experiencing a surge in the number of students seeking mental health services, says a report from a meeting of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).
And while most schools do have some mental health services, they do not offer programs specifically geared to treat anxiety disorders, the most frequently diagnosed mental illness in children and teens.
They also do not have the staff to meet this rising need, researchers say.
"Not surprisingly, the nation's top schools are reporting that there's an increase in students needing and accessing mental health services," confirms Jerilyn Ross, president and CEO of the ADAA.
"Nearly all of the national university and liberal arts colleges responding reported an increased usage of student mental health through the past three years," says Ross.
"We're also seeing a growing number of students coming to college with a history of mental illness, with an increase after 9/11," notes Ross. "There is also increased awareness around mental illness."
Anxiety disorders refer to a spectrum of illnesses characterized by anxiety, worry, and fear, and include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as specific phobias.
According to the ADAA, an estimated 40 million adult Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, making this the most common mental health diagnosis.
Anxiety disorders are also the most common mental disorders to occur during childhood and adolescence.
The novelty of heading off to college can present special difficulties, experts say. It is also a time of life when mental health problems tend to emerge.
"The classic issue for many people starting out in college is separation from family," says Dr. Alec L. Miller, chief of child and adolescent psychology at Montefiore Medical Center. "They're free at last, but it's a double-edged sword."
"There are a lot of benefits but also risks and trouble spots," notes Dr. Miller. "A lot of kids are not well prepared with adequate internal resources to withstand stress.
"Some kids don't monitor eating and sleeping properly, and all these things create vulnerability for anxiety and other psychiatric disorders," he adds.
The report is called Anxiety Disorders on Campus: The Growing Need for College Mental Health Services. It involves surveys with 83 schools selected from US News & World Report's 2007 guide to the nation's top national universities and liberal arts colleges.
The survey found that most schools do offer crisis intervention, individual counseling, and referrals, but few programs are tailored to the specific needs of students.
Almost all respondents reported an increased usage of mental health services over the past three years.
Liberal arts colleges reported a higher overall usage rate (an average of 23 percent of students) compared with national universities (13 percent).
More than one-fifth of schools reported an increase in the number of students seeking treatment at college counseling centers who were already taking psychiatric medications.
"This is a problem that I don't think we've ever had on these campuses," says Ross.
Less than half of responding schools knew how many of their students were seeking treatment for anxiety disorders.
Among those that did know, national universities reported about 35 percent requesting treatment for this type of condition vs. 23 percent of liberal arts colleges.
The ADAA believes that availability of mental health services should be a factor when deciding which institution a child is going to attend.
"This report will give students and parents additional information to consider when selecting a school," says Ross.
"Our call to action is that it is critical for students to have access to counseling and other mental health services to diagnose and treat anxiety disorders," Ross adds. "Many people don't know they have a disease that can be treated. Instead, they suffer silently and don't know where they can get help."
Always consult your physician for more information.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes its sufferers chronic and exaggerated worry and tension that seem to have no substantial cause.
Persons with generalized anxiety disorder often worry excessively about health, money, family, or work, and continually anticipate disaster.
Although GAD may be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder, impairment is usually mild.
Persons with this disorder usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants, but cannot rid themselves of these irrational concerns.
The following are the most common symptoms of GAD.
Symptoms may include:
- trouble falling or staying asleep
- muscle tension
- hot flashes
- lightheadedness and/or difficulty breathing
- frequent urination
- feeling as though there is a lump in the throat
- lack of concentration
- being easily startled
- prone to irritable bowel syndrome
- inability to relax
The symptoms of GAD may resemble other psychiatric conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
GAD begins gradually, usually in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too.
It is more commonly seen in women and often occurs in relatives of affected persons.
Each year, 2.8 percent of persons ages 18 and 54 are affected by GAD.
Always consult your physician for more information.