Finishing school and going to college may be an incredibly difficult process for numerous young people. Many factors can make it challenging, including exams and tests, sleepless nights for good grades, vast amounts of homework, and nervous anticipation of news from colleges. Therefore, most teenagers go to higher educational institutions being mentally unstable, and their conditions tend to worsen when another academic year begins. However, even in 2021, not all adults consider states such as anxiety, panic attacks, stress, or depression to be severe mental disorders, which leads to young students’ issues being underrated and not addressed promptly. This is indeed a serious mistake and devaluation of the problem since calling students who cannot study or socialize properly, lazy or ungrateful, makes them feel even worse. The research question this paper tries to answer by exploring various academic and reliable sources is whether depression and anxiety are common in college students, and if so, what are the causes and possible consequences?
Definition and Common Facts about Anxiety
Overall, anxiety is a normal and natural feeling familiar to all people, especially when one feels apprehension, nervousness, or even fear about what is about to happen. A person’s body responds to stress with anxiety, and it is typical to feel it before an interview, exam, performance, or date (Holland). Nevertheless, in case anxiety becomes a young person’s daily companion that appears to be extreme, uncontrollable, and unreasonable, this is a particular sign to consult with a specialist.
If this feeling lasts longer than it should (more than six months), and there is no adequate way to control it, a person likely has an anxiety disorder (Holland). This emotional condition is known for making people’s lives uncomfortable as a debilitating and intense feeling of fear interferes with all daily activities and deprives them of communication and enjoyable experiences. Therefore, such symptoms as rapid breathing, restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, trouble concentrating, and increased heart rate are especially uncomfortable and harmful for young students’ emotional states (Holland).
Definition and Common Facts about Depression
Another problem faced by numerous people is depression, whether it is just depressive thoughts and unwillingness to have an active social life or actual major depressive disorder. This serious mental illness also affects how a person feels, acts, and perceives the world, making all experiences troubling, unwanted, uncomfortable, complicated, and energy-consuming (Torres). In addition, constant sadness, trouble sleeping, and other severe symptoms also deprive patients of normal life.
Certainly, any average person may feel sad or even devastated at some point in their life. However, this is always different from depression because the sadness caused by this mental disorder is unreasonable and cannot be stopped by eliminating the reason (Torres). Undoubtedly, people with depression are in danger and need to focus all their energy and attention on treating this condition, which leads to problems at work or college (Torres).
American College Students with Depression or Anxiety: Statistics and Facts
To answer the first part of the research question and find out whether the discussed mental and emotional conditions are common in college students, it is essential to explore the statistics. To begin with, according to McAlpine, “a survey by a Boston University researcher of nearly 33,000 college students across the country reveals the prevalence of depression and anxiety in young people continues to increase, now reaching its highest levels” (para. 1). Thus, these conditions are indeed common in students, and the situation worsens rapidly (Simon para. 3). The survey also revealed that two-thirds of young people in colleges felt isolated ad struggled with loneliness, while eighty-three percent of them reported their mental health having adverse effects on their studies and primarily academic performances (McAlpine para. 1).
College students experiencing either of these mental conditions typically find themselves in a vicious circle. Their depression or anxiety prevents them from concentrating on assignments and tests and also interferes with their active participation in-class activities (University Communications para. 5). This significantly lowers their academic performance, which in turn makes them even more nervous and drives them deeper into a depressive state. Then, it leads either to the desire to fix everything (which again becomes impossible due to the mental and emotional state) or to the decision to give up and stop trying (Simon para. 10). The second option also contributes to the worsening of sadness and the development of other accompanying problems, namely, low self-esteem, disrespect and devaluation of oneself, and loss of motivation (Simon).
Common Reasons and Causes for College Depression and Anxiety
Certainly, there are numerous reasons for the development of anxiety, loneliness, and depression in young people in colleges. Some of the causes can be eliminated easily, while others have been developing for many years and now require substantial efforts to be addressed. To begin with, according to Mayo Clinic Staff, “college students face challenges, pressures, and anxieties that can cause them to feel overwhelmed,” many of them leave their homes and parents for the first time and have to adapt to living by themselves (para. 5). At the same time, this separation from relatives not only makes them worried but also eliminates any limitations. Hence, young people become responsible for their sleeping schedule, eating habits, and other elements of daily life (Mayo Clinic Staff para. 5). Undoubtedly, many of them feel the freedom and ruin the necessary and healthy habits, which together with studies issues can affect them adversely for several months or even weeks. Further, intimate relationships, new activities and workloads, and money problems also add to the stress that students experience.
While some of them manage to cope with it, adjust their daily and weekly schedules, and get used to the new routine, others become driven deeper and deeper into depression, anxiety, or nervousness. Mayo Clinic Staff notices that “dealing with these changes during the transition from adolescence to adulthood can trigger or unmask depression during college” (para. 6). What is more, some may have experienced trauma in their childhood, and later it can cause college depression.
COVID-19 as a Factor Aggravating the Problem
Apart from the common causes discussed above, there is a particular reason why the rates of depression and anxiety among college students are increasing significantly right now. Undoubtedly, this cause is a global pandemic that has led to major lockdowns and has been affecting people worldwide for more than a year (Sreenivasan et al.). Numerous researchers are studying the effects of COVID-19 on different groups of people, including college students.
To begin with, it is hard to disagree that for an extended number of young people, going to college and living on campus is the dream of many high school years. However, for first-year college students of 2019, 2020, and even 2021, this dream did not come true or came true only partially because the activities they expected from the campus and the college itself were forbidden due to the lockdown (Wang et al.). Thus, millions of students were trapped in colleges, unable to travel to their parent’s homes or socialize with friends (Sreenivasan et al. para 4). It is relatively easy to imagine that such an experience is a real challenge for many young people. The fact that the pandemic has continued for such a long time has dramatically affected students’ mental and emotional health.
According to Sreenivasan et al., “anxiety, mental health crises, courtesy of a college experience stripped almost entirely of campus life, tradition, and structure, on top of a pandemic” (para. 14). Further, “researchers found the prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety in first-year college students increased 40%, from 18.1% before the pandemic to 25.3% within four months after the pandemic began” (University Communications para. 5). Likewise, statistics for depression have also increased significantly – from 21.5% to 31.7% (University Communications para. 5). Overall, precisely the feeling of being isolated from others and the fear of a new and deadly virus have affected college students and caused more of them to develop anxiety or depression.
Particular Related Issue: Drinking Problems
Unfortunately, depression and anxiety among college students are even more dangerous and harmful because they increase the chances of young people developing drinking issues. Bravo and Pearson notice that for a vast number of college students, alcohol is the only way to cope with loneliness, fear, isolation, and depression and anxiety symptoms (94). Therefore, they abuse alcoholic beverages and may develop additional severe issues after the pandemic ends.
To conclude, one may say that depression and anxiety are indeed serious mental and emotional conditions common in college students. Young people’s emotions and mental states are still in the developmental stage, which is why they are more unstable and susceptible to negative influences from external circumstances. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns continue affecting college students, it is possible to suggest that the rates will not stop growing in the next year or two. Therefore, colleges need to adopt specific measures to help students healthily cope with their mental issues.
Bravo, Adrian J. and Matthew R. Pearson. “In the Process of Drinking to Cope among College Students: An Examination of Specific vs. Global Coping Motives for Depression and Anxiety Symptoms.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 73, 2017, pp. 94-98.
Holland, Kimberly. “Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety.” Healthline, 2020. Web.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Tween and Teen Health.” Mayo Clinic, 2020. Web.
McAlpine, Kat J. “Depression, Anxiety, Loneliness Are Peaking in College Students.” Boston University, 2021. Web.
Simon, Sarah. “Nearly Half of College Students Report Being Depressed or Anxious.” Very Well Health, 2021. Web.
Sreenivasan, Hari, et al. “How the Pandemic is Impacting College Students’ Mental Health.” PBS, 2021. Web.
Torres, Felix. “What Is Depression?” American Psychiatric Association, 2020. Web.
University Communications. “Depression and Anxiety among First-Year College Students Worsen During Pandemic.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2021. Web.
Wang, Xiaomei, et al. “Investigating Mental Health of U.S. College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cross-Sectional Survey Study.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 22, no. 9, 2020.