College students suffering from mental illness says study

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A study that was recently presented at the American Psychological Association Convention in San Diego, California, highlighted how an increasing number of college students are suffering from mental illness.

The study was led by John C. Guthman, director of student counselling at Hofstra University. The research involved analysing data on more than 3,000 students, both undergraduates and graduates, who had used campus counselling services for mental health problems in a twelve year period from 1997 to 2009.

The counselling services offered by the campuses included screening for mental disorders, suicidal thoughts, and behaviour that could lead to self harm.

What the researchers discovered in the course of the study was that during the 12 year period the number of people diagnosed with a mental disorder rose to 96 percent from 93 percent, the number of students taking medication for mental health problems doubled in percentage from 11 to 24 percent and there was almost a 10 percent increase in the diagnosis of depression.

“In the last 10 years, a shift in the needs of students seeking counselling services is becoming apparent,” said Guthman.

The study didn’t identify why there was an increase only that there was a change and a number of reasons have been put forward as to why this might be.

“University and college counselling services around the country are reporting that the needs of students seeking services are escalating toward more severe psychological problems. While the condition of students seeking counselling doesn’t necessarily reflect the experience of the average college student, our findings may suggest that students with severe emotional stress are getting better education, outreach and support during childhood that makes them more likely to attend college than in the past” said Guthman.

He also said that perhaps medication had improved and therefore some students are able to function well enough to go to college and succeed whereas they might not have been able to before.

Interestingly, the number of students who said they were experiencing suicidal thoughts in the first couple of weeks of counselling had dropped from 26 percent in 1998 to only 11 percent in 2009.

Guthman said this could be due to improvements in suicide prevention programmes and better awareness of what help is available.

He also said that youngsters used to come to the counselling centres because they had a relationship breakdown or because they had failed a test whereas “now, they are coming with emotional distress and requesting mental health treatment for the same reasons that other adult populations seeks out treatment” said Guthman.

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