Although college is usually depicted in TV shows and movies as a life full of frat parties and sporting events, the sad truth is that many students, especially freshmen, find themselves suffering from anxiety and depression. Some students find the transition from high school to college to be overwhelming. Many struggle with feelings of homesickness in addition to issues with classes, roommates, and workload. Although most students now have the freedom that they always desired, they are also pulled away from family and friends, getting inadequate amounts of sleep, and often using illegal substances. Without anyone present to supervise them, some students find this new lifestyle stressful. To make matters worse, they often spend their time watching other kids apparently having the time of their lives on Instagram. The question becomes, when are these feelings normal, and when do they require intervention?
Mary Commerford, PhD, director of the Furman Counseling Center at Barnard College believes that this type of activity of comparing your college experience to what you believe are other people’s, leads to more anxiety and unhappiness among freshmen. She counsels students to recognize that it is normal to take some time with making new friends and adjusting to their new living situation. Unfortunately, some students progress from normal “freshman blues” to serious mental health issues, especially if they experienced them before college. The director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University notes that anxiety has become typical in today’s college students. A study at our own Penn State showed that more than half of the students who visited the campus clinics stated that anxiety was a health concern for them. In fact, most college clinics have seen a tremendous increase in the number of students visiting campus mental health facilities. This may be partially due to a decrease in the stigma surrounding mental health diagnoses. Although most counselors see students seeking treatment as a positive change, it has caused tremendous strain for campus mental health centers. These centers can often treat the mild cases of anxiety with several early interventions. But there is always the risk that if a center is at capacity and a student can’t get an appointment for an extended period of time that their condition could worsen. Studies, such as one performed at Ohio State, have shown that students who receive counseling are more likely to stay in school.
A student knows themselves better than anyone else knows them. They need to recognize the symptoms of anxiety and even depression in themselves. Certainly if the symptoms of sadness, fear, lack of sleep , lack of appetite, or social disinterest are affecting a student’s ability to succeed, then intervention seems necessary. Carrie Landa, the director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services at Boston University simply believes that it is time to seek help if your stress is turning into distress. There is no shame in reaching out for help. The mental health centers, although busy, will make every effort to assist you.