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College Mental Health: Anxiety Surpasses Depression

Credit: MU Student Health Center

Katarina Schultz began to show symptoms of social anxiety at the age of 11 or 12 and was unable to interact with strangers or order food at a restaurant when eating out.

“I was very hyper aware of what people thought of me,” she said. “I was really worried about embarrassing myself and I was sure that people were judging me all the time and that anything I said was going to be an embarrassment.”

She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in high school.

Without the presence of her family nearby things got worse in college in St. Louis. Two months into her freshman year, she attempted suicide and was hospitalized. Schultz took medical leave her sophomore year to focus on herself. Now back in college in St. Louis, she says that although her condition has improved, she still struggles with anxiety on a social and academic level. 

“It’s been very difficult to make new friends because I have anxiety in large social situations,” she said. “It’s also been hard with school work.” 

Schultz is part of a growing number of college students struggling with anxiety. A 2014 study by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State revealed that more than half of the 100,000 students surveyed cited anxiety as a health concern when they visited university clinics and counseling centers across the United States.  The study shows that anxiety has surpassed depression as the most common mental health problem among college students but that depression is still rising.

Dr. Craig Rooney, a psychologist and director of Behavioral Health at the University of Missouri’s Student Health Center, said that he has seen a rise in students with anxiety students in the past two years.

“There is more [anxiety among college students],” he said. “That’s not to say there’s less depression in fact they’ve also documented there’s more depression as well.

Credit Credit: MU Student Health Center
Dr. Craig Rooney

  Health professionals think the rise in reported cases could be due to high school pressures, helicopter parenting and social media, but also students’ increased willingness to seek help and talk about what they are feeling.

Wendy Hayworth is a sophomore studying journalism at the University of Missouri. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in middle school and had a hard time her freshman year in college. She missed classes and her grades began to suffer as anxiety and depressive symptoms became a vicious cycle.

“I couldn’t bring myself to care about it,” she said. “And then I’d care about it and have a massive anxiety attack over it because oh my god what am I doing, I’m screwing over my future and then the depressive episode would come on and then I would stop caring again.”

Rooney says it is common for anxiety and depression symptoms to mix together.

“The physical exhaustion and discomfort that comes with chronic anxiety can often begin to wear a person down until their mood is depressed and they’re feeling kind of hopeless and helpless,” he said.  “In the other way, chronic depressive episodes are so debilitating and they feel so awful that it’s not uncommon for a person who’s had them to begin to feel anxious about whether or not they’re coming back.”

Hayworth began seeing a counselor at the MU counseling center and was able to get her grades up.

Students at MU have choices for care. The counseling center and the Student Health center both provide counseling, while the Student Health Center also provides medical treatment and access to physicians and psychiatrists who can prescribe medication.

Schultz, the student in St. Louis, still struggles with anxiety but is seeing improvement. She hopes that students with anxiety and depression can find comfort in talking about their issues.

You’re not alone,” she said. “It can be fixed too so don’t be afraid to talk about it because that’s one of the best things we can do is to talk about it. A lot of people are going through this and you don’t have to feel alone or ashamed.”