Brain Waves: Co-current disorders rampant on college campuses

As much as 25 percent of college students meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health issue. Only 60 percent of these students, however, actually seek professional help.

As much as 25 percent of college students meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health issue. Only 60 percent of these students, however, actually seek professional help.

Dan Robinson, Contributing Writer

There is no denying the mental health crisis on college campuses across the United States. Despite its prevalence, however, a clear stigma is attached to mental health issues and, in many cases, universities are slow in responding. As counseling centers are still being developed, students attempt to fix these problems on their own, many through substance abuse. This is a huge problem that needs to be fixed through intervention on the part of universities, friends and family, and through the active destigmatization of mental health treatment.

It is obvious that parents and students who come to see a school have different expectations of what they are looking for in a college. As a tour guide, many parents often ask me difficult questions in regards to the health and safety of their child while being away at college, but incoming freshman might judge the school based on the party scene at night. They look for a school that promotes a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle advertised in places such as “I’m Shmacked” and College Prowler; lenient alcohol policies, diverse nightlife and a robust Greek-driven social life are a must.

The dangerous effects that this extreme party culture can cause on students’ mental health are clear. As much as 25 percent of college students meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health issue. Only 60 percent of these students, however, actually seek professional help. Unlike physical illness, mental health problems are viewed as a personal failure. Instead of being told to go to a doctor, take medication and rest until they feel better, students that suffer mental health issues are all too often told that they are faking it or that they are not trying hard enough. These types of suggestions tend to isolate people in their greatest time of need.

The students suffering from mental illness without seeking help still try to alleviate the problems themselves. For many, getting drunk and high can be quick and effective fixes. A student’s ability to numb pain and escape can be a much more appealing and socially acceptable coping mechanism than taking the steps to receiving proper treatment.

Drinking and drugs have long been seen as a staple of the college experience, but substance abuse is an issue that extends far beyond the substances themselves. While the types and quantities are often relevant factors in determining when moderate use has turned into abuse, the context in which people use drugs is more telling than anything else. Not uncommonly, unrecognized or misdiagnosed mental health issues are the driving forces behind drug abuse.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that sufferers of anxiety and depression are two to three times more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder. These statistics do not take into account the increased prevalence of substance use for 18- to 24-year-old adults and the extremely lenient enforcement of policies regarding alcohol and drug use on many college campuses. Students are driven to get drunk and high by the stigma associated with abstaining from these substances and the ease of access to drugs and alcohol, among other reasons.

Accessing proper mental health care at college may not be as easy as it seems. Nearly all colleges, at 94 percent, reported seeing an increased demand for psychological services in 2014; however, only 54 percent of universities attempted to meet this growing demand by hiring additional clinical or psychiatric staff. While many schools are able to provide urgent, short-term relief, students seeking long-term care are often forced to find a local counselor in the community and pay out of pocket with or without insurance.

Last year, the Tulane community experienced the devastating consequences of having inadequate mental health care. Significant changes have occurred on campus over the past year. Students can already see the positive benefits from the partnership between Tulane and the Jed & Clinton Health Matters Campus Program this past summer. The decisions to offer 12 free counseling sessions per student per year, shorter wait times and the implementation of a 24-hour crisis line are enormous first steps.

While the university has a responsibility to provide support for its students, it is the responsibility of all of us to be aware of what occurs on campus among our friends and peers. The ability to differentiate between students who are having fun and individuals using drugs and alcohol to cover up an underlying condition is essential. It allows students to recognize when it is necessary to seek professional help, rather than waiting until one of their peers hits the point of a true crisis. And while it is clearly not the place of fellow students to diagnose or suggest specific treatment, it is important for us all to be aware of the red flags that might signal the presence of something more than hard partying.

If you are someone who is struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse problems or are concerned about someone, you can reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services at (504) 865-5255.

Dan Robinson is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected].