BY SAMANTHA JONES
Anxiety and depression rates amongst college students are steadily rising, leaving university counseling centers overbooked and understaffed. According to an article published by Psychology Today in 2015, more than 22 percent of college students seek therapy at least once a year, and colleges are now the top employers of psychologists and counselors.
According to psychologist and professor Dr. Bryan Hall, the human brain is still very much developing in the college years, which plays a significant role in the way a young person responds to stress.
“One of the major findings about brain development in this age group is that the emotional part of the brain tends to be more dominant as compared to the brain of an older, more mature adult,” Hall said. “Someone in their late teens or early twenties is more likely to go first to the limbic (emotional) system in the brain and not necessarily think with their frontal cortex (in charge of logical thinking). The logic is there. It’s just that neuro-biologically, there’s a disconnect between those centers of the brain until people get farther along in their twenties.”
However, the problem isn’t exclusively internal. Hall said there are many outside factors in today’s society that contribute to a college student’s declining mental health.
“These problems are not occurring in a vacuum,” Hall said. “Externally, the world around college students tends to be very stressful. It’s not that they haven’t encountered stress in their lives before, but this is a whole new ball game. They’re going to college, becoming independent, having more weight on their shoulders, possibly working or being involved in extracurriculars. It’s just a lot, and the stress from those and other life events can pile up on people.”
Another glaring issue among young people today that could potentially impact a student’s mental health is the influence of social media. Melissa Nord, a counselor at the Drake University Counseling Center, said that the conveniences of being constantly plugged in can come at a cost.
“There is a lot of comparing yourself to other people (online),” Nord said. “That’s the perceived image on social media, that everyone is out doing all of these things and everyone is happy, and it makes people think, ‘Why can’t I be that way?’”
Nord also mentioned that the increase in instant gratification produced by social media may potentially be creating an impatience and inability to wait for a difficult situation to improve.
“Millennials right now are so used to having the internet and being totally plugged in all the time, so coming to college can create some difficulties because there’s not that immediate gratification,” Nord said.
Dr. Christopher Kliethermes, a neuroscience and psychology professor at Drake, said that it’s not an issue someone should fight alone.
“There is something fundamentally different about the brain of someone who is experiencing stress, and there’s research now that is looking into how stress can lead to expressions of anxiety or depression,” Kliethermes said. “The way I view a mental disorder is your thoughts and your behaviors come from your brain, and your brain can get sick. If your heart gets sick, you go to a cardiologist. When your brain gets sick, you want to go to someone who knows what they’re doing with it.”
Drake has several resources for students struggling with mental illness, from the American Republic Health Center and University Counseling Center to professors and advisors. Hall said that the first step is to reach out.
“As an instructor, if students are struggling, I want to know about it,” Hall said. “If there’s something I can do to help them, I want to be able to do that. In my experience, students are just in a unique time of their lives where they need more support.”
The University Counseling Center and American Republic Health Center are located on Carpenter Avenue and are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.