Over the last 10 years, the number of university students seeking help for mental or emotional problems has grown sharply.
A 2015 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found the number of students seeking help increased at five times the rate of new students starting college during that time.
In addition, a 2015 report from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found anxiety to be a major problem for students. Nearly half of all students who sought help in recent years said they felt anxious. In other words, the students said they felt unusually worried or afraid.
An additional 40 percent of students said they felt depressed -- very, very sad.
Experts give several explanations for why the number of students seeking help for mental health issues is rising. One reason could simply be a change in American culture. In the United States, people are increasingly comfortable talking about mental health issues and bringing their problems to trained experts.
Another reason could be related to the current generation of young people attending universities today.
But one reason is surely higher education itself.
Ben Locke is the executive director at the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. He also serves as the director of counseling and psychological services at Pennsylvania State University.
Locke says feeling worried and sad are normal parts of life. But college is a difficult time when students want to make friends, find their identity and succeed academically.
"College being a place with high demands, lots of competition and lots of concern about being able to get a good job after college, certainly increases the, the level of stress that students experience."
Giorgia felt the stress of college life in a very severe way. She began her studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 2010. She wanted very badly to succeed there, but she often worried she would fail.
Giorgia asked VOA not to share her surname.
Even before she went to college, Giorgia worried about things. At age 11, Giorgia was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. OCD causes a person to focus intensely on the same thoughts and repeat the same behaviors over and over.
At McGill, Giorgia worried about her academic performance. She also worried about what she would do after college.
In her third year of school, Giorgia worried so much about her worrying that she began seeing a therapist. Her therapist suggested the medication called Adderall would help Giorgia with her OCD.
But as her final year at McGill grew closer, Giorgia only worried more.
She stopped eating regularly and did not sleep for weeks at a time.
Her medication only made the problems worse. Her mood changed wildly. She also began to believe that her friends -- as well as complete strangers -- were watching her.
"I was aware that it was crazy. But I also thought there was no other possible way that all these coincidences could be happening. And it really freaked me out."
Georgia stopped leaving her apartment. And because she lived far from home, her parents did not realize how serious her anxiety was.
A young man named Jason also shared his story with VOA. Like Giorgia, he did not want to give his surname.
Jason is from Bethesda, in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland.
Jason started seeing a therapist when he was seven years old. At that time, his therapist diagnosed him with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
This condition of the brain makes focusing for long periods of time difficult. It also affects a person’s ability to think clearly before making decisions.
Jason says having ADHD made school difficult for him throughout his life.
He adds that he also struggles with depression. His therapist diagnosed him with the condition when he was in high school.
Jason completed a two-year associate’s degree at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, in the spring of 2007. He then began a bachelor’s degree program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County that fall.
But just as he began classes, his life changed in several major ways. His mother and father told him they were separating. Then his grandmother died.
Jason tried to stay focused on his studies. But the next year, his parents decided to make their separation permanent and get divorced. A month later, he received more horrible news: his best friend died.
Jason says all these things combined proved to be too much for him. Some days he was so sad he could not leave his bed. And then at one point, he considered suicide.
"I remember because I was driving home and I said to myself, ‘I wonder what would happen if I just yanked my steering wheel to the left and drove into one of these light poles. And I wonder who would come to my funeral? And I wonder if anyone would care?’"
As soon as Jason began thinking suicidal thoughts he knew he needed help.
Next week we will continue exploring mental health issues and how they affect college students. We will hear why experts say these issues are a growing concern and what can be done.
I’m Pete Musto.
Words in This Story
anxiety – n. fear or nervousness about what might happen
counseling – n. advice and support that is given to people to help them deal with problems or make important decisions
academically – adv. of or relating to schools and education
stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life or work
diagnose(d) – v. to recognize a disease or illness in someone
therapist – n. a person who helps people deal with mental or emotional problems by talking about those problems
medication – n. a substance used in treating disease or relieving pain
mood – n. the way someone feels
coincidence(s) – n. a situation in which events happen at the same time in a way that is not planned or expected
freak(ed) (me) out – p.v. to become very anxious, upset, or afraid, or make someone very anxious, upset, or afraid
focus(ing) – v. to cause something, such as attention, to be directed at something specific
associate’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student who has completed two years of study at a junior college, college, or university in the U.S.
bachelor’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after four years of study
class(es) – n. a series of meetings in which students are taught a particular subject or activity
steering wheel – n. a wheel in a vehicle that the driver turns to steer the vehicle