Opinion: Universities should do more to help students struggling with anxiety and depression

Anne Florence Brown
Oxford Stories

You are a 20-year-old college student studying pre-med. You have not found a community of friends in your six months of arriving on campus. Your classes require so much studying. You could spend every day, all day studying if you chose to, but you cannot seem to get out of bed.

Life has seemed pretty dismal since your recent breakup. You have no one. Your parents are six hours away, as are all of your best friends from high school, since they decided to attend the state school while you chose to “adventure” somewhere different. You thought this would be a good idea, but it made your life lonely and harder.

A mountain of anxiety presses on your chest every day. Your bed feels like a better and safer place than any club or Greek house. No one checks in on you because no one cares.

What is your point here? Why can’t you even get out of bed? As you check your midterm grades, your anxiety pulses at the horrific grades. You can’t be mad, because you have skipped every class for the past month and guessed every question on the midterm.

Shame rises as you realize what a loser you are. Who can’t get out of bed? The simplest action. What are you going to do?


Depression rises among college students

This is a peek into the life of countless college students. More people than you may assume struggle with varying forms of depression and anxiety.

Studies show that one in five college students are dealing with depression and anxiety, and it is as prevalent as the common cold. Around 85% of college students have felt overwhelmed in the past year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Countless students are silently suffering. Even more are suffering from the “loneliness epidemic” that inevitably leads to feelings of depression and impaired mental health.

In a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students, 64% said they had felt “very lonely” in the previous 12 months, while only 19% reported they never felt lonely, according to the American College Health Association.

Students also reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety” (62%) or “very sad” (69%), and that “things were hopeless” (53%). Nearly 12% seriously considered suicide, according to the Foundation for Art & Healing.

Mental health has become a big issue among college students, and because most campuses have counseling centers and opportunities for help, you would think students would take advantage of them.

However, according to a Higher Education Today article, “Only a small percentage (10–15 percent on average) of these students seek services at their counseling center. Instead, they continue to struggle, which can have a substantial impact on their academic performance. This disconnect requires campuses to rethink their approach to supporting students with mental health concerns, as for some, early intervention may avert the need for professional help.”

College campuses expect students to be mentally healthy enough to seek help. But if a student can barely get out of bed because of their depression, walking into a random building on campus seems near impossible.


Seeking help is not that easy

Here is a common scenario. First you walk into a sad, broken down building shoved above the parking offices on a sad corner of campus. Then you schedule an initial appointment.

Within a week, you attend the first interview about your past and life. They tell you they will be in touch about matching you with a counselor and to schedule a next appointment soon.

For myself and three other students who I have inquired about their experiences, that turned into several weeks, and in two cases, a month. In my case, the first open appointment was a week after that.

The University of Mississippi Counseling Center also recently began a 10-session limit on free sessions. If one were to seek help outside of campus, they would not be able to find a counselor for less than $125 an hour. Often, it is closer to $200 per hour. I called 10 different counseling offices in Oxford to find learn this statistic.

This entire experience inhibits students seeking help. How are they to succeed in school, find a spouse, and figure out a future when their present lives are dark and stuck in the mud and mess of our own minds.

Depression and anxiety directly impact scholastic and social success. If a university and its professors care about students, they should give money to mental health offices on campus.

No one can do well in school when they cannot get out of bed or are having anxiety attacks that they seek to calm with unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substances. Our society has done a poor job teaching our youth how to cope, how to deal with difficult emotions, and we have damaged their chances of healing.

Many things should be improved. Most assume it starts with de-stigmatizing  mental health issues. However, when one is depressed, they need to hear much more than “It’s OK to not be OK.”

This is helpful, but the real issues lie in the severe lack of options and resources for struggling students. Just because there is an option for healing does not mean it is a good option.

We, as a society, need to care about the young minds we are teaching. Professors, meet with a student who has skipped several classes. Chances are, they are struggling and have no one to turn to.

Universities, help our children, please. Improve the options. Give us hope. Help us cope.

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