By: Nythia Mahakala and Sophie Nitsche
When Michelle Nelson walks into her fourth year college classroom at the University of Georgia, she knows that, statistically, a handful of peers struggle with a mental disorder.
“I’ve had a couple of friends who’ve had like panic attacks and breakdowns over college and grades,” Nelson said.
The stress of deadlines and projects may contribute to depression, anxiety or other severe mental health problems. According to the UGA University Health Center, 1 in 4 UGA students indicated that lack of sleep has impacted their academic performance in a negative way and increased their chance of having panic attacks in an annual survey.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported that 16 percent of teenagers had seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 8 percent had actually attempted it. Thirty percent of adolescents will experience a depressive episode by the time they turn 18; and out of all who need help, 70 percent will not receive adequate care.
“There’s a major increase of anxiety and depression in younger and younger kids. They can’t just play anymore. There’s no way to decompress,” said Rebecca Stanchfield, a child and adolescent play therapist in Savannah, Ga.
The range of illnesses encompasses everything from depression to suicidal ideation. The trend of declining mental wellness is facilitated by intense academic pressures to succeed, the emergence of adulthood, and broad societal expectations.
“School absolutely has an impact on that. Twenty years ago, you could get into any college if you tried,” Stanchfield said. “But now… the requirements are ridiculous, even if you have a 4.0 GPA… School competition crushes them.”
In a recent poll taken by the Gallup Youth Survey of high school students, the top 50 percent of teens chose “stressed” and “tired” when it came to describe their school careers.
To battle mental issue obstacles, many colleges and universities have started to offer counseling or psychiatric services on campus. Health centers now provide 24-hour crisis hotlines and offer training for students, faculty and staff. The UGA University Health Center has its own support in the form of the Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
Support organizations have been created around campus to remove the negative connotation surrounding mental health. One such group is UGA’s chapter of Active Minds, which works to inform students about symptoms and treatment of disorders, says the group’s president Colleen Keeler.
“This is vital, as it can help many students get on the path to recovery that they might have otherwise never found,” she says.
The UGA chapter has hosted several events on campus to promote mental health knowledge, the most prominent being a display consisting of more than 1,100 flags on Tate Lawn, each one representing a college student who had taken their life in the past year.
“People all over campus were impacted by this display, and I heard students discussing it for several days after it went up,” said Keeler. “The more people get used to discussing and hearing about mental health topics, the less stigmatized the issues will become, as they will begin to realize how prevalent these issues truly are.”