College is a time for finding yourself, for experiencing that first true taste of freedom, for making friends, and for figuring it out.
For many, college is also a time of onset of mental illness. Common onset for many disorders is between 18-25. How old are traditional college students? between 18 and 25.
Couple this time in life of experimenting more with drugs and alcohol, being on your own, and major adjustment with the onset of a disorder, and you have a situation on your hands. This doesn’t have to be a “serious” disorder (even though they all should be taken seriously). This is a very common age and time in life for the onset of depression and anxiety. Those two disorders just so happen to be common co-morbid diagnoses, too.
To understand why this is such a common time for onset (beginning) of disorders, I want to review what goes into “activating” one. The etiology (cause) always has biological, psychological, and social correlates. Biologically, this is still a time of tremendous growth for the brain. A number of things could happen here. Psychologically, being on your own for the first time, not fitting in, not doing well in school, having to rebuild a support system, etc. will influence a trigger for depression and/or anxiety disorders. Socially, much of the same is in there. Heavier partying is a social, psychological, and biological factor and much of them are. The word we use is biopsychosocial. I think it displays nicely how all of these factors are intertwined. Also important to note is that you could have a 4.0, make tons of friends, and be having the time of your life and depression and anxiety can still hit you.
Depression and anxiety are already super common and we are all likely to experience at least one depressive episode in our lifetime. So what can we do to help college kids when they’re hit with this for the first time in their life while they’re away from home, friends, and familiarity?
Make everyone aware of symptoms, even if just in a mass email. Why not include a list of resources in that email, as well? Colleges and Universities are becoming more aware and outspoken about mental health resources and support. This will help friends recognize something going on, too. Early treatment is best. Here is a list of common symptoms (not a complete list) of depression. You do not need to have all of them to be diagnosed.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others and that others would be better off if one was gone
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Giving away prized possessions
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Make resources easily accessible
Okay, so we all know at least one song but have no idea why we know every word simply because it was constantly in front of us. It just makes it easier for someone to access it when you can’t ignore it. In turn, the more accessible and diverse those resources are, the more likely they are to be used. Phone lines, texting, chatting online, etc. It isn’t easy to pull yourself out of bed in the middle of a depressive episode to get into a counselor’s office. It is always the best option in my opinion, but any professional help, well, helps.
Even thought these are only two plans of action, they will make a world of a difference. A young person who is educated about what they could be going through is more likely to reach out to those easily accessible and diverse resources sooner.
College is a thrilling time in life, but still life and that means lows are bound to happen. Being prepared for those possible lows can help. If you’re reading this and are in college or at a University in the US, your school should have at least 2 free sessions with a counselor for you to take advantage of. There are more than likely clubs and organizations on campus that can be a sense of support, too!
As always, below will be a list of resources for if you are in crisis or want to educate yourself more on the topic (s) in this post!
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. Also available 24/7 for online chat.
I’ll be creating a separate post for anxiety, but for now enjoy this information.
Comment below! I want to hear your thoughts.