Studies reveal mental illness increase in students

Joseph Schulz, Managing Editor

One out of five American adults are dealing with mental illness, including college students, which can sometimes become disastrous for their academic careers, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

A 2012 NAMI report outlined specific mental health issues facing college students, ranging from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

“These issues are vitally important because colleges across the country are reporting large increases in the prevalence and severity of mental health conditions,” the study said.

The study found that 64% of college dropouts left school due to mental illness, 45% of those who dropped out did not receive accommodations and 50% did not have access to mental health services.

Poor mental health can have severe impacts beyond causing students to leave college. A study by the American College Health Association found that 34.2% of college students said their grades were negatively impacted by stress, 27.8% were affected by anxiety and 20.2% were burdened by depression.

The ACHA study noted that mental health had a greater effect on academic performance than alcohol use and physical ailments.

NAMI Oshkosh Executive Director Mary Janness said anxiety makes going about everyday life more difficult. She added that it can sometimes stem from untreated depression.

“It may cause sleeping problems, which would make it more difficult to get school work done,” she said, adding that anxiety can also cause physical effects on the body such as stomach aches and diarrhea.

One student who continues to overcome mental health challenges is UW Oshkosh psychology major Stephanie Webster, who suffers from depression and anxiety. She was diagnosed during her freshman year of high school, but she said she had been self-harming since sixth grade.

After being diagnosed, she sought the help of a counselor, which has helped her immensely. She said counseling gave her a place to talk through what was going on in her mind and taught her strategies that made it easier to cope with her anxiety.

“Just talking about it makes it seem real. If you think it’s a terrible thing and the person you’re talking to is like, ‘that’s totally normal;’ it’s relieving,” Webster said.

When Webster went to college, she felt a sense of gratification because she never thought she would be able to.
She also felt an increased pressure to do well. Webster said dealing with her mental illness can sometimes make it harder to get her school work done.

“If you have panic attacks and stuff, you get absolutely exhausted,” she said. “So it’s hard to stay motivated with school. You start to think, ‘this is stupid; why am I doing this?’”

Even though her anxiety makes school work more difficult, Webster has persisted and is on pace to graduate next year with a degree in psychology.

Another UWO student battling anxiety is education major Melissa McCann, who was diagnosed in 2009. She said her anxiety got worse when she went to college because she feels an added pressure since she’s a nontraditional student.

“I’m 26 now. It’s really a lot on me financially to go to school,” McCann said. “There’s also the added pressure of being an education major, because I have to maintain a GPA above 3.0.”

Last year, McCann started going to the UWO Counseling Center. She utilizes a mix of individualized therapy and group therapy, which she said has been extraordinarily beneficial.

“It helped me realize that I wasn’t alone,” McCann said. “It taught me a lot of new coping mechanisms, and I was able to use some of my bad experiences to help others.”

Even if someone isn’t struggling with a mental health disorder, McCann thinks everyone can find some benefit in just going to the Counseling Center to decompress.

“I think it would benefit anybody, not just people who are struggling to get through everyday life,” McCann said.
The NAMI study found that only 50% of students dealing with mental health disclosed their mental health condition to their university, and that the stigma surrounding mental health was the biggest barrier to students seeking help.

The UWO Counseling Center’s counselors are required by law and professional standards to maintain confidentiality; however, there are exceptions of confidentiality which include threats of harm to self and/or others, report of abuse of a child and report of abuse of an elderly person.

Since going to the Counseling Center, McCann has been better able to cope with stress. She used to see her therapist every other week, but now she only goes once a month. McCann is on track to graduate next year and become a teacher.