By Alex MacDougall
The college years often play host to some of the greatest and most memorable moments in a person’s life. Students enjoy newfound freedom from their parents and develop lasting relationships – all in the prime of their youth. But for an increasing number of students, the college experience is characterized not by fun but depression, anxiety, and an overwhelming amount of stress.
Last month, The New York Times reported a three percent increase (from 6.1 percent to 9.5 percent) over the past 5 years in the number of college freshmen that reported they had struggled with feelings of depression. That trend mirrors a 7 percent increase (from 27.1 percent to 34.6 percent) in the number of freshmen that felt overwhelmed by schoolwork and other commitments.
Worcester State University is no exception to this phenomenon. Over the past 2 years, WSU counseling services has seen a 22 percent increase in the number of students that come in to receive counseling; over 230 students reported last semester alone. That number doesn’t include those students potentially afflicted with depression or anxiety who don’t seek counseling, either because they do not recognize the symptoms or fear the stigma associated with mental illness.
“We’re seeing a lot of students come into college already pre-diagnosed with some type of mental illness,” said Laura Murphy, the Director of Counseling at WSU. “There are also many students who have been living with undiagnosed depression and anxiety. The ages of 18-24 are usually the prime years when there is going to be symptoms of mental illness.”
Murphy also pointed to the large amounts of stress many college students are put under as a contributing factor. “A lot of students have to work to afford their education, so they’re trying to make money to pay for their classes while still trying to do well academically. Many students do so without parental support, so they’re literally on their own, which can cause a lot of anxiety, and in some cases depression.”
According to Murphy, common symptoms of depression include excessive sleeping, lack of physical and emotional energy, loss of interest for things one usually enjoys, skipping classes, and having an overall feeling of hopelessness. Those faced with these symptoms may feel that they are impossible to overcome.
So, what can you do if you know a friend or family member who is going through depression? Murphy suggests that the best thing to do is encourage them to talk about their feelings, and to let them know it’s okay to get help.
“There is a lot of support here at Worcester State,” Murphy said. “The best way to break down the stigma is to have conversations and programs discussing mental health, to talk about it, and to make it okay.”
Worcester State counseling services are located in the Modular Building next to the Sullivan Academic Center, and they are provided free of charge.
If you wish to get more involved in the fight for suicide prevention, consider participating in an Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk, such as the one being held in Boston this coming June.