Counselors experience higher demands with rising student mental illness

Students walk to class every day on thousands of college campuses across the country, hiding behind a mask of being “okay.” But the research done in the past few years claims otherwise.

October 7-13 marks Mental Health Awareness Week, and there are few places that mental health problems can be seen so clearly as on college campuses. 

One of the most concerning facts about mental illness is that it can occur early in life, and it often does. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75 percent of all mental illness begins by the age of 24, meaning that most mental illness begins during childhood and adolescence.

The American Psychological Association (APA) published an alarming article nearly 20 years ago, claiming that schoolchildren experience more anxiety than child psychiatric patients did in the 1950s.

Liberty University has taken the initiative to address this drastically increasing issue. 

Dr. Steve Nielsen is the staff psychologist and clinical coordinator for the student counseling services.

“The demand for services is really high,” Nielsen said. “It keeps all our staff busy every hour of the week.” 

Counseling Services saw 1,564 students last year, and a total of 8,380 appointments were completed with those students.

Counseling Services made 804 appointments from the first day of classes (August 27) through the end of September. A total of 370 students have met with counselors for those 804 appointments.

According to Nielsen, the problem of mental illness in young people has gotten increasingly worse over
the years.

“It’s really hard for them to figure out where they’re going and what’s going to be happening in the future,” Nielsen said. “I think they haven’t been prepared for the anxiety that the world is creating.”

APA defines anxiety as, “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

In fact, The American College Health Association found alarming statistics in the Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment. The assessment recorded that 56.9 percent of students surveyed felt overwhelming anxiety, and 47.7 percent felt hopeless.

Depression is also an issue that college students struggle with.

The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as, “feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.” Symptoms include loss of energy, difficulty concentrating and even feelings of
worthlessness.

An article by NBC News outlines the effect of anxiety and depression on college students, According to the 2016 UCLA Higher Education Research Institute survey of freshmen, nearly 12 percent say they are “frequently depressed.”

The depression and anxiety that students deal with have led to more serious problems such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

According to the article by NBC, “26 percent of students who sought help said they had intentionally hurt themselves; 33.2 percent had considered suicide, numbers higher than the previous year.”

Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Liberty has worked to address this problem on its campus by offering services to help students navigate these issues.

Crisis counseling helps students deal with challenges such as a change of major, loss of a relationship, problems with peers and death in the family. Counselors help students through the decision-making process.

“We can deal with most anything that comes through the door,” Nielsen said.

Liberty also offers Celebrate Recovery, a group counseling service that helps students work through issues, including mental illness and even substance abuse.

Mental illness has crippled college campuses around the country. Research has been uncovering the alarming rates at which this problem is rising and continues to bring awareness to the issue.

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