A recent survey published in Depression and Anxiety, the official journal of Anxiety and Depression Association of America, reveals a terrifying statistic; one in every five college students has considered suicide. The study states that, “The college years represent a period of increased vulnerability for a wide range of mental health (MH) challenges. The onset of common psychiatric conditions occurs during this period of development. Increases in depression, anxiety, and suicidality among U.S. college students have been observed.”
Researchers used the Spring 2015 American College Health Association‐National College Health Assessment (ACHA‐NCHA survey to look at mental health diagnoses and suicide plans, thoughts and attempts from roughly 67 thousand undergraduates who collectively attended over 100 colleges. The survey concluded that “stress was strongly associated with a greater likelihood of suicide attempts and MH diagnoses, even among students reporting 1-2 stressful events…”
Dr. Scott Bea, PsyD of the Cleveland Clinic who did not participate in the study, commented on the report noting that in late adolescence and early adulthood when young brains are still developing life exposes them to a host of stressors including, identity formation issues, burgeoning independence, and fluctuating moods. As stressors accumulate, they can become overwhelming. Some young people struggle with anxiety and clearly many (as many as one in five) consider suicide.
Further Dr. Bea stated that, “During an acute crisis…people can often act on an impulse, and because young adults and teens tend to be more impulsive, they might not always think to reach out for help before acting.” He added that, “Feeling fatigued, withdrawing from social activities, feeling like sleeping all of the time, constant worry and feeling frightened of the future are all signs that someone is struggling.”
Dr. Bea advises that planning for mental health issues should be part of your college send-off plan. Students need to know where and how they can access mental health resources provided by the university or external resources (therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists). And parents should not be afraid to check in with their students regularly and ask about both their emotions and their academics.
Talk to your student about the emotional side of adjusting to campus life, not just about their classes but about their social adjustment. “Ask about their well-being and how they’re adjusting to…being away; to the emotion of college and the demand on them,” and how they are coping with those demands.
The report concludes that given the high impact of stress on mental health and suicide ideation, colleges must move to mitigate stress during the formative college years. There exists, the study reminds us, “an urgent need for service utilization strategies…”