Penny for your thoughts (a take on student mental illness)

In today’s hectic college environment, it isn’t uncommon to hear students talk about having anxiety over projects and tests or being depressed about a breakup, but what about when the depression and anxiety are a constant state?


According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75 percent of lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 24 and nearly a third of college students report feeling so down that they have trouble functioning. Forty percent of students with symptoms of a mental illness do not seek help and continue to struggle with school. However, there is hope.

The most common disorders among college students are anxiety (11.9 percent) and depression (up to 9 percent), with eating disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia being less prevalent.

Early signs of many of these illnesses include withdrawal from social circles, trouble concentrating on classes or work or drastic changes in eating or sleeping habits.


Anxiety can cause students to feel a general sense of panic and dread that isn’t necessarily triggered by midterms or finals and can include such conditions as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.


Depression has many classifications including bipolar, melancholic or even psychotic — all of which can cause things prolonged periods of sadness, memory and concentration problems and poor self esteem.


I spoke with Chuck Pennington, a local therapist, and some students and alumni from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Due to a bad and often undeserved reputation surrounding mental illnesses and those who live with them, students who did not say they wanted to be named outright will remain anonymous in this article.


Pennington said one of the best things you can do, regardless of whether you have a mental illness or not, is learn about it.


There was usual advice of “taking a deep breath when you feel stressed,” “eating healthier” or not being afraid to call and talk to a therapist and some things people don’t think about too often like “cutting caffeine,” trying to “learn how things affect your mindset” and not being afraid to take a day off once in awhile.


Mental illness changes the way students and alumni look at things. Many of the responses were incredibly uplifting and said things including “Once I realized the many different people who have overcome the struggles of coping with this illness I knew I still had a chance.” I can’t help feeling sad that I can only include a some of them for brevity’s sake.

Another student said, “If you asked me this question a few years ago, I might've said it affected my life terribly. I didn't really like going anywhere, or even talking to my loved ones very much. My outlook on life was very, for lack of a better word, depressing. Now that I'm older and have been living with these mental illnesses for about half my life, I realize how much stronger of a person it's made me. I know now that I can get through things that past me never would've thought I'd be able to do. Even though it's still pretty tough, my outlook is definitely much better. Because I've endured the times of my life that were so bad, it's made the better times so much easier to appreciate.”


An alumnae said, “It's changed my outlook on life in a few ways. On one hand, it can be scary. I try to predict things that will make me anxious or trigger me, which makes me hesitant to do more things, try things, etc. But on the other hand, I really appreciate little things. I try to enjoy things as much as I can to balance my not-so-fun moments.”

Being well-educated on the subject better equips you to deal with your symptoms or someone else’s when they occur. A study conducted by the NAMI stated that 79 percent of students surveyed wanted faculty and staff at their schools to have some sort of mental health training with suicide prevention, peer-run groups and mental health information being provided at orientations following close behind.


However, NAMI’s study revealed one of the top five problems students cited. Students said the mental health website for their college didn’t provide information on typical mental health issues in college, ways to manage said mental health issues or have information for students who were unaware of such issues.


As we face the stresses of all-nighters, tests and papers, it’s important to take a little time for ourselves once in awhile and, remember, we’re in this together.



Bethany Young Bethany Young
Photo Credits:
Date Posted: 
Wednesday, September 28, 2016