For many, heading off to college is an exciting time. It involves leaving home, gaining independence, and meeting new friends, while enjoying novel experiences and making decisions about the future. While college is a positive experience for many, a significant number of today’s college students live with anxiety or depression, which can make it difficult to enjoy the same college experience that students without mental health conditions do. Here, learn about the prevalence of anxiety and depression in college students, as well as ways to get help if you or a young adult in your life is struggling with mental health symptoms during college.
Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression in College Students
A new study that made headlines in December 2021 shows that a significant number of college students live with anxiety and depression. The study, published in BMJ Open, revealed that around one-third of first-year college students have one of these mental health conditions.
Some specific statistics that emerged from the study were as follows:
- At the start of the academic year, 27% of first-year students met the criteria for depression, and 32% met the criteria for anxiety.
- Six months after the start of the year, 37% met the criteria for anxiety, and 33% had depression.
These findings are in agreement with an earlier study, published in a 2015 edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders, which found that 25% of college students experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and 23% experienced moderate to severe depression.
Factors Linked to Anxiety and Depression in College Students
In addition to providing prevalence data, the studies referenced above analyzed the factors that were associated with both anxiety and depression in college students. The study in BMJ Open found that drug use was linked to increased odds of developing depression or anxiety during the first year of college. On the other hand, being connected to peers and university life reduced the risk of depression and anxiety, and it increased the likelihood of recovering from these mental health conditions.
The study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that the following factors were linked to depression and anxiety in college students:
- Academic concerns
- Body Image
Based on what is known from recent research, it seems that some of the stressors that come with college life, such as financial constraints and academic pressures, can contribute to depression and anxiety. The risk of mental health concerns is also increased for students who engage in risky behaviors, like drug use. Taking advantage of the positive aspects of college, such as connection with peers and opportunities to get involved in campus life, offer protection against depression and anxiety.
Barriers to Seeking Help
Depression and anxiety are common in college students, but they may not always seek treatment. In some cases, finances can serve as a barrier. Students no longer on their parents’ health insurance plans may be hesitant to reach out for help. Those who are living on their own for the first time may be unsure of how to navigate the world of copays and deductibles.
For other students, knowing where to go for help can be a barrier. Students who are far from home may be unaware of resources near their college or university, or they may never have had to access treatment on their own, without the help of parents or guardians.
Finally, stigma can serve as a major barrier to seeking treatment. Research has shown that many college students have self-stigma surrounding psychological services, meaning they have come to view themselves in a negative light for needing to seek treatment. Public attitudes toward mental illness can create self-stigma and deter students from getting help. They may be fearful that others will judge them negatively for admitting to having depression or anxiety.
Treatment for College Students
For college students looking for help with depression and anxiety, a campus counseling center can be a suitable place to start. Staff at an on-campus counseling office can help students to manage their symptoms and develop healthy coping skills. Campus counselors can also refer students to resources off-campus, if needed, to support their recovery.
Students may be fearful of seeking treatment, but the truth is that depression and anxiety are prevalent on college campuses, and treatment can really make a difference. The number of college students seeking depression treatment has been on the rise, which provides evidence that students who live with mental health disorders are not alone.
Given the fact that depression and anxiety are so common on college campuses, students should not be fearful or ashamed of reaching out for help. Treatment is available, and it does work. In addition to seeking treatment, it can be helpful to get involved in activities on campus. Joining a group, such as an intramural athletic team or a club of interest, can really make a difference.
According to experts, treatment for depression and anxiety often involves psychotherapy and/or medications. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is often used in the treatment of both mental health conditions. This form of therapy can teach college students to replace unhealthy, anxiety-provoking thoughts with healthier ways of thinking.
While therapy and medication are beneficial for many people, not everyone responds to this form of treatment. For those living with depression that does not improve with traditional treatment methods, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) serves as an adjunctive form of treatment. TMS is a non-invasive treatment approach that requires patients to wear a device that rests against the head and delivers pulses to areas of the brain involved in mood. Pulse TMS provides this treatment to patients in the Los Angeles area, and you can continue your usual course of treatment while receiving our TMS services. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.