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Mental health disorders are rising among all age groups. However, young people between 15 and 24 are more likely to experience these conditions than others. Hormonal factors and social realities create unique pressures on this population.
Counselors and teachers should remain aware of signs of trouble. Early intervention can often succeed, while ignoring the issue often snowballs into bigger problems down the road. Here are five sobering statistics about mental health in college students that everyone in education should know.
1. Nearly a Quarter Binge-Drink
Despite media depictions of fraternity parties, binge drinking on college campuses is no joke. It often leads to substance use disorder, life-altering accidents, legal trouble and even sexual assault.
However, nearly a quarter of college students reported having more than five drinks in one sitting over the past two weeks. This degree of inebriation carries associated health risks.
In severe cases, binge drinking can lead to death by alcohol poisoning. It also affects your heart, kidneys, lungs and pancreas, increasing your risk of chronic illness.
Furthermore, binge drinking impairs judgment, making you more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Such acts can result in sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy. It can also spur depression as your remorse turns to self-hatred.
2. Nearly Half Use Alcohol
Alcohol causes biochemical changes in your brain that make you more prone to continue use. It disrupts levels of various neurotransmitters, eventually affecting the receptors for these substances. As a result, you find it more difficult to find pleasure in normally enjoyable activities, your brain getting the desired rush only when you indulge in a drink.
The younger you begin heavy alcohol use, the greater the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. Alcohol use can also create legal challenges that impede your education.
For example, some schools have disciplinary policies that include dismissal from the university as a penalty for repeated underage drinking infractions. Furthermore, an underage DUI can result in thousands of dollars in legal fees and hinder your job prospects — you’ll have to disclose and explain your arrest on applications.
3. Relatively Few Receive Drug and Alcohol Treatment
Despite 37% of college students reporting regular drug and alcohol use, relatively few receive treatment. This lack is unfortunate, as many have access to campus mental health resources that disappear once they graduate.
However, students might not be aware of the resources available to them. University officials, including instructors and advisors, can relay information about campus groups and counseling services through their syllabi and one-on-one contacts.
4. Depression and Anxiety Are on the Rise
The COVID-19 pandemic was not kind to college students’ mental health. Rates of depression doubled between 2019 and 2020, and anxiety increased by 50%. Research from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation indicates that two-thirds of college students experienced a mental health disorder within the past year.
One overwhelming reason fueling the despair is the economy. New homes average nearly half a million dollars. At the same time, most available jobs pay less than $20 an hour, making achieving lasting financial stability a pipe dream for many despite their educational endeavors. As a result, many despair of ever starting a family and resign themselves to a lower standard of living than previous generations enjoyed even without a degree.
Climate change also fuels despair. Many young people worry that the planet will soon become uninhabitable. While those with sufficient resources can flee areas stricken by drought and plagued by worsening natural disasters, those without will suffer severe loss.
5. Eating Disorders Plague Many, Especially Women
Many college students fret about gaining the dreaded “freshman 15.” In some, this obsession with body image spirals into an eating disorder. The disorder knows no gender boundaries but affects women disproportionately, with one in ten females experiencing anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating.
Unfortunately, transgender students also face an increased rate of these conditions. One 2015 study found that transgender college students were four times more likely to report an eating disorder than their cis-gendered peers, three times more likely to restrict eating, nine times more likely to take diet pills and seven times more likely to use laxatives.
This group often struggles with body dysmorphia issues, feeling trapped in the wrong physique. Campus outreach programs and inclusivity training can help these individuals feel more accepted for who they are.
Mental Health in College Students
Mental health issues continue to climb. Rates escalate most severely among those 15 through 24.
Counselors, teachers and parents should educate themselves on these five sobering statistics about mental health in college students and share them with those in this age group. By increasing awareness, people can confront minor issues before they snowball into ongoing problems.