Giving a Voice to the Silent

Mental illness is on the rise in college students, with at first two possible reasons: there's actually no rise from the previous generation, just an increased awareness of it; or, to put it colloquially, there's "something in the water."

Recently, the CBC, Gonzaga University, Syracuse University and Skidmore College have published reports pertaining to mental health in university students. CBC, the North's version of NPR, wrote an article in late October detailing how difficult the transition can be between high school and university, and the impact it can have on a student's mental health. Profiling one student, the CBC looked at how the stress of living away from home for the first time and adjusting to the pressures of an increased workload can affect mental health. They cited Statistics Canada, which wrote that of people aged 15 to 24—the age most likely to be enrolled in university—315,928 of them had had a major depressive episode within the last 12 months. And of that figure, approximately one-third had suffered from bipolar disorder.

The numbers are fairly similar across the United States, with The Gonzaga Bulletin using the National Institutes of Health's nationwide survey performed in 2011 that found 30% of college students reported feeling "too depressed to function." To ameliorate that, Gonzaga has employed mental health professionals specifically for student use, although the numbers don't quite seem adequate. Dr. Fernando Ortiz GU Counseling Center director, says that the benchmark of optimal staffing level is one mental health professional per 1,000 students, with an optimal ratio of one per 800 students.

Gonzaga has roughly one mental health professional per 2,000 students.

Syracuse University has taken a slightly different approach, focusing on mental health issues in student-athletes. Although they don't classify what a "youth" is, they do say that nearly 1 in 5 meets the criteria for a mental health disorder. Using that figure, they write that 92,600 to 115,750 of the 436,000 student-athletes in the NCAA have been afflicted with some type of mental ailment. It's interesting to focus on it from a sports angle, as the pastime is huge in the United States and athletes can face immense pressure to succeed in both athletics and academics.

Lastly, Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY has taken the issue of mental health among collegians seriously. After finding a 28% increase in the number of students visiting the campus's counseling center, the clinic received contingency funding and was able to hire a temporary clinician to work 15 to 20 hours a week. This is in addition to the permanent clinicians who work 35 hours per week, and conduct an average of 30 clinical appointments each week.

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