Online NewsLetter

A Vision of the Future of Psychiatry

Coping With the Stress of Young Adulthood

¦ For many young adults, the college years are the best times of their lives. But too often these critical years of adjustment are undermined by depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders sometimes leading to suicide. Researchers are finding that many mental illnesses may be traced to trauma whose damage surfaces in times of stress and change, such as the college years. Some of the threats to college students’ mental well-being are highlighted below:

¦ Depression affects over 19 million American adults annually, including college students. At colleges nationwide, large percentages of students are feeling overwhelmed, sad, hopeless and so depressed that they are unable to function. According to a recent national college health survey, 10 percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression, including 13 percent of college women.

¦ Anxiety disorders affect over 19 million American adults every year, and anxiety levels among college students have been rising since the 1950s. In 2000, almost seven percent of college students reported experiencing anxiety disorders within the previous year. Women are five times as likely to have anxiety disorders.

¦ Eating disorders affect five to 10 million women and one million men, with the highest rates occurring in college-aged women.

¦ Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for all Americans, the third leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24, and the second leading killer in the college population in 1998.

¦ According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.8 percent of men and 12.3 percent of women ages 18 to 24 report frequent mental distress–a key indicator for depression and other mental disorders.

¦ College students are feeling more overwhelmed and stressed than 15 years ago, according to a recent UCLA survey of college freshman. More than 30 percent of college freshman report feeling overwhelmed a great deal of the time. About 38% of college women report feeling frequently overwhelmed.

When college students are depressed, they may experience other health or mental health problems. To relieve the misery of depression, some college students turn to drugs or alcohol. Likewise, when college students abuse alcohol and/or drugs, depression can develop.

On the surface, it may seem like a good idea–to get high, to have fun, to relax, and to escape–but alcohol and drug abuse are serious. Alcohol abuse does lasting damage. One night of heavy drinking can impair the ability to think well for up to 30 days.

It can be a difficult time. Suddenly, perhaps for the first time in their lives, young people are moving away from everything familiar to them–family, friends, home, community–and beginning to make their way as young adults entirely surrounded by strangers, in a new setting. They may feel everything is on the line: their ability to succeed at college-level work, to build adult relationships, and to adapt to a lot of change all at once.

Johns Hopkins University reported that more than 40% of a recent freshman class sought help from the student counseling center. Many college students have minor problems adjusting to their new environment. Here are a few ideas that can help young people manage their feelings of pressure and stress:

¦ Better plan your use of time. Make time every day to prioritize your work. Prioritizing can give you a sense of control over what you must do, and a sense that you can do it.

¦ Plan your work and sleep schedules. Too many students defer doing important classwork until late at night, work through much of the night, and start each new day exhausted. Constant fatigue can be a critical trigger for depression. Seven or eight hours of sleep a night is important to your well-being.

¦ Join an extracurricular activity. Sports, theater, Greek life, the student newspaper– whatever interests you–can bring opportunities to meet people interested in the same things you are, and it provides a welcome change from class work.

¦ Make a friend. Sometimes this may be a roommate or someone you meet in class or the cafeteria. Friendships can help make a strange place feel more friendly and comfortable.

¦ Try relaxation methods. These include meditation, deep breathing, warm baths, long walks, exercise–whatever you enjoy that lessens your feelings of stress or discomfort.

¦ Take time for yourself each day. Make this special time–even if it’s only 15 minutes by yourself–a period where you think about your feelings and dreams. Focusing on yourself can be energizing and gives a feeling of purposefulness and control over your life.

If the above techniques do not appear to be working, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If your feelings of constant stress become feelings of sadness that go on for weeks and months, you may be experiencing more than just difficulty adjusting to life’s changes. Seek assistance from the university counseling service, student health center, your doctor, or a mental health professional.

The above material is copyrighted and published by the National Mental Health Association, no part of this document may be reproduced without written consent.

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Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014

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