Overwhelming Anxiety at America’s Colleges

Anxiety disorders afflict more Americans than any other mental illness, with more than 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety. It is especially disconcerting that anxiety is now the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, with depression on the rise as well.

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, social anxiety disorder (SAD), separation anxiety and various phobias. Depression is a condition in which people feel sad, hopeless, unmotivated, and generally disinterested in life for longer than two weeks.

In 2014, the American College Health Association (ACHA) found more than 50 percent of students had felt “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous 12 months; in 2013, almost all the college mental health directors surveyed by the National College Counseling Association said they’d seen a recent increase in students with serious psychological problems at their schools.

At Boston University, clinicians reported that the number of students in crisis seeking help for behavioral issues doubled between 2010-2014. The ACHA survey revealed that nationwide nearly one in six college students had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety.

Many more did not see a physician or seek treatment. If untreated, anxiety and depression can have deadly consequences. Depression carries a high risk of suicide and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that suicide deaths have been rising quite considerably in the U.S. According to the CDC data, the rate jumped 24% from 1999 to 2014, from 10.5 to 13 per 100,000 people.

It’s a serious concern for colleges across the nation. The University of Wisconsin System is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the country. A recent survey revealed that nearly ten percent of all UW System students per year seriously consider suicide.

Anxiety and depression can also trigger attempts to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, especially in young adults. “Many people who suffer with undiagnosed depression or anxiety reach for alcohol or drugs to calm their nerves or relieve them of emotional pain,” writes clinical psychologist Tian Dayton.  

“Rather than seek out some help in managing depression, anxiety or chronic resentment, they seek their own solution—a solution which, while it works pretty well for a while, eventually complicates the issues and leads to more pain. It’s the same sort of premise as having access to your own morphine drip: You administer your own dose whenever you begin to feel pain,” says Dr. Dayton.

According to the latest federal survey, more than 22 percent of full-time college students used an illicit drug in the past month. Six percent of the nine million full-time college students used an illicit drug for the first time in the past year.

If the drug use is an attempt to deal with an anxiety disorder, serious problems are bound to follow. The substance use is no real therapy and can easily add an addiction problem.

Young adults who have both a substance use disorder and another mental illness often exhibit symptoms that are more persistent, severe, and resistant to treatment compared with patients who have either disorder alone.

And they require an intervention that takes all co-occurring disorders into account. At Decision Point Center, patients receive an extensive psychiatric, medical, nutritional, psychological and psychosocial development assessment conducted by licensed therapists and physicians.  

This assessment process establishes an understanding of the client's condition, needs, past treatment experiences, physical health, psychological state, family history and much more. The comprehensive assessment ensures that the Decision Point team can provide the best, most individualized addiction and substance use disorder treatment for each patient.