BY HALEY HODGES
Drake University is a competitive private institution that boasts abundant extra-curriculars, extensive internship opportunities and a successful employment rate after graduation. Pressures surround students on a daily basis as they adapt to new challenges in their new homes.
Inside and outside of Drake, society is adapting to new standards with an increased speed of life, leaving many suffering from anxiety as they try to keep up.
According to a 2015 report by the American College Health Association, anxiety is reported to have surpassed depression as the leading mental illness in college students.
“We live in a very competitive environment,” said Mark Kloberdanz, director of the University Counseling Center. “There’s that sense of competitiveness within academics. There’s parental pressure. A lot of students come from successful parents who put a high premium on their child being successful, and in a university setting, that success equates to grades.
“There’s the cost factor. When you go to a private school and the cost is high, there is that expectation that the performance will equal what that cost is. Then there’s also the whole fitting in piece, especially as a first-year.”
This is Kloberdanz’s seventh year working at the Drake Health Center. Before coming to Drake, he spent five years working at Mercy College of Health Sciences.
“Every year, our numbers go up. The demand for our services increases,” Kloberdanz said. “Part of that is because we try and get out and let people know about our services, particularly incoming freshmen, but we see students from every year, first-years to graduate students.”
Kloberdanz said the counseling center saw 504 students last year and estimated that around 70 percent suffered from anxiety as their predominant complaint.
“With each year, it seems like the pace of life has increased,” Kloberdanz said. “The demands of people is more intense than it ever has been in the past. Each incoming class seems to feel an inordinate amount of pressure to be successful, and you have to break that down to each individual to find out why that is.”
Triggers for anxiety can range from person to person, and like most diagnoses, when it comes to mental health, it can be hard to pinpoint any one cause.
Kloberdanz said students getting their first bad grades, trying to make new friends, being away from home and other situational factors are common complaints from students the counseling center sees.
Dawn Wirtz, a Drake graduate student working in the counseling center, said the increase in anxiety and depression comes from the spiking use of social media among young adults.
“Social media in this age group has a huge impact,” said Wirtz, a graduate student at Drake in the counseling program. “They’re seeing lots of comparisons, and there can be bullying and that kind of stuff.”
Wirtz spent last semester doing her practicum at LifeWorks, a local institution for therapy and counseling, particularly for children and young adults.
“From my experience, personally, I kind of aged out of the anxiety,” Wirtz said. “I think as you get older, out of college, you start to think, ‘Gosh, what do I want in my life to really be happy? I want to slow down.’ And I’m at that age right now. Even though I’m in school right now, I do want to slow down, and I’m able to say no to things where maybe in your teen years and your early twenties you think you just got to do it all.”
Wirtz went back to school to study counseling and said she can sometimes see examples of what she studies in her teenage children and elderly mother, who, like most people, become anxious about different things in their lives.
Kloberdanz said the trouble with anxiety is it can come and go, be challenging to diagnose and be situational, dependent on the circumstance, or dispositional, integrated into an individual’s nature. Some people are more genetically predisposed to anxiety disorders. Anxiety is also a blanket term that can apply to a disorder as well as an occasional feeling.
“There’s good anxiety and bad anxiety, and I think it’s important that we realize that good anxiety is a very important part of our way of life,” Kloberdanz said. “If we weren’t anxious about a final or test, we probably wouldn’t study as much. I think there’s a fine line of demarcation between the good anxiety and bad anxiety, and when we’re too anxious, the opposite occurs and we shut down and withdraw. That’s when the yellow caution lights flash.”
Kloberdanz explained how unchecked anxiety can be dangerous, especially to people unfamiliar with the feeling.
“Anxiety and depression are first cousins. They go everywhere together,” Kloberdanz said. “So often times if a person is highly anxious for a period of time they become depressed because they’re so anxious all the time.”
The Health Center offers several confidential services for anyone interested in seeking a third party opinion from a licensed professional. The center provides individual or group counseling, education and consultation, assessment and referrals at no cost to students. It employs two full-time and two part-time therapists and counselors as well as one student intern.
Common signs seen in college students suffering from anxiety are changing social levels, an increase in alcohol consumption, not going to class, a lack of interest in hobbies and becoming more irritable, according to Kloberdanz.
Kloberdanz also said he worries about the social stigma surrounding mental health and hopes that society will continue moving away from the negative reactions and that has always been a main goal for the Health Center.
For help with combatting anxiety, contact the American Republic Health Center or other confidential resources to find the appropriate help.