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Monday, December 11, 2006

College Students and Mental Illness

Caveat - I acknowledge that this post is probably more interesting to me than anyone else reading this, just because of the focus of my studies right now. Oh well.

On my bus ride this morning, the man next to me was reading this article in the NY Times (apparently from Friday) about students entering college while at the same time managing mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and depression (don't worry, I didn't read over his shoulder, I looked the article up online when I got to work). I found it interesting to see how the article portrayed different students dealing with these issues in different ways.

I imagine that the college setting has got to be a very difficult place for a teenager to manage mental illness. With all the changes that take place when a student enters college - for many it is the first time they are indepedent and having to deal with things like making sure they get proper meals, to waking themselves up on time, to getting their laundry done. In addition, the difficulty of often not having a stable daily schedule mixed in with the social aspect of alcohol and drugs, staying up late nights and having to live with people other than your own family. It's such a huge change from what most teens have previously experienced, and I know from my own experience, it's not easy.

So for a teen who is managing a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, which can be challenging, to say the least, to stablize even without crazy schedules and lack of proper support, to start college has to be a monumental task. I can certainly understand the fears articulated by the parents in the article. It sounds like the students who were interviewed manage their illnesses well, and thankfully are very aware of their struggles. In addition, the support from parents is undoubtably a good thing.

What I wonder about is the number of students who probably experience the onset of these mental illnesses while they are in college, away from home for the first time. Common age for onset of bipolar disorder and depression is between 18-24 years old. I would imagine that the multitude of changes that occur when a teen enters college along with the drinking and drugs that many students are exposed to would even increase the likelihood of these mental illnesses emerging. Along with the establishment of independence from parents at this time, and the large college campuses where I imagine it's easy for a student to completely slip under the radar, I worry about the number of cases that probably do not get the attention that is needed. I know when I was in college, no one was aware of difficulties I was having until they got huge, and I lived only 20 minutes from home.

College counseling centers are a great start, but how many students really utilize them and how qualified are the individuals working in these centers? I know many of my classmates, not yet certified in counseling, are the ones attempting to meet the needs of these students, but I am not sure they are really equipped to identify and help students suffering from severe depression or bipolar disorder.

I'm not saying that students should stop attending college. On the contrary, I think it's important for teenagers to establish their independence (though I won't start on how I think so many students don't value the education they could be getting). But I think awareness and communication of issues such as mental illness should be more widespread and made a bigger priority. I don't think it should take the suicides we hear about all too commonly to force college campuses to step up the measures they take in order to assist their students in successfully making it through college.


  • All good points...very interesting.

    By Blogger SaraK, at 12/11/06, 3:04 PM  

  • Those kids are extremely lucky to already be aware of their mental illness so early in life, and to have parents who actually give a sh*t.

    Most (like me) move out completely unaware of their condition, and by the time they realize that something is wrong with them, it will be a miracle if they will have actually gone to college at all.

    If they want to help the kids, they need to make it very safe for them to come forward when things start to seriously go wrong, as many mentally ill people become afraid/paranoid in some way.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/12/06, 9:01 AM  

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