As if college were not difficult enough, more than one-third of first-year university students in eight industrialized countries around the globe report symptoms consistent with a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“While effective care is important, the number of students who need treatment for these disorders far exceeds the resources of most counseling centers, resulting in a substantial unmet need for mental health treatment among college students,” said lead author Randy P. Auerbach, PhD, of Columbia University. “Considering that students are a key population for determining the economic success of a country, colleges must take a greater urgency in addressing this issue.”

Auerbach and his co-authors analyzed data from the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health International College Student Initiative, in which almost 14,000 students from 19 colleges in eight countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Spain and the United States) responded to questionnaires to evaluate common mental disorders, including major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

The researchers found that 35 percent of the respondents reported symptoms consistent with at least one mental health disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. Major depressive disorder was the most common, followed by generalized anxiety disorder. The findings were published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

“The finding that one-third of students from multiple countries screened positive for at least one of six mental health disorders represents a key global mental health issue,” said Auerbach.

Previous research suggests that only 15-20 percent of students will seek services at their respective counseling center, which may already be overtaxed, according to Auerbach. If students need help outside of their school counseling center or local psychologists, Auerbach suggested that they seek Internet resources, such as online cognitive behavioral therapy.

“University systems are currently working at capacity and counseling centers tend to be cyclical, with students ramping up service use toward the middle of the semester, which often creates a bottleneck,” said Auerbach. “Internet-based clinical tools may be helpful in providing treatment to students who are less inclined to pursue services on campus or are waiting to be seen.”

Future research needs focus on identifying which interventions work best for specific disorders, said Auerbach. For example, certain types of depression or anxiety may be best treated with certain types of Internet interventions, whereas other disorders, such as substance use, may require treatment in person by a psychologist or other mental health professional.

“Our long-term goal is to develop predictive models to determine which students will respond to different types of interventions,” said Auerbach. “It is incumbent on us to think of innovative ways to reduce stigma and increase access to tools that may help students better manage stress.”

9 replies on “Report: 1 in 3 college freshmen report psychological disorder”

  1. kids these days cannot handle real life. Its simple. No coping skills and a whoa is me attitude. Whether that is because of the parents not offering real life guidance or possibly social media running everyones lives. Creating more depression because everyone elses life looks great and perfect. When in reality everyone struggles just the same but that will never show on facebook/twitter etc. Not only that our lives are easier today than anytime our past history. Anxiety is in almost everyone it depends on how you handle it. Yes there are extreme cases but 1 in 3 college students? Give me a break.

    How did people cope in the past? not pharma drugs they just dealt with it. take it on the chin and keep moving.

    1. In the United States, around one in five have mental health issues… proper treatment and diagnosis and medication can make things go better…

      NAMI… National Alliance on Mental Illness was founded in Madison around 37 years ago and has expanded to cover the nation. It is real important that we understand mental health issues, how to get services, and how to advocate for family members and friends to get services… which sadly are lacking in our nation today.

  2. Todd, Respectfully, every generation of older people thinks the young kids have it easier. Seriously, we do not ride in covered wagons worried about predators in the frontier. This constant refrain of soft children does not do anything other than blame people, instead of acknowledging a thing, and trying to break a cycle.

    1. Dino, Your choice of words confuse me and it might just be the way i am reading it. This constant refrain of soft children does not do anything other than blame people, instead of acknowledging a thing, and trying to break a cycle.

      Kids do have it easier as far as access to things such as travel, information, medical treatment etc….outside noise such a pressures from peers and things like social media create a false sense of urgency or feeling uselessness or being an under achiever.

      These are false signals to the brain (fictitious dangers) where it makes it difficult for kids to accept themselves for who they are or being happy with who they are. Yes some have anxiety issues and may need meds as a last resort. But meds won’t completly fix the issue just subdue the underlying issues/feelings. Those numbers have to be inflated because i feel like those with a simple anxiety issue are being lumped in with those with serious anxiety/depression issues. Too much to say i could keep going on lol…i am in my early 30s and i see a huge change in those younger than me.

  3. Todd, sorry I might have missed with that. Let me try again. I think this idea that “we had it tougher” when I was a kid is false. You, or the person saying it, had it different. As a narrative it singularizes the experience of the individual as the only correct one. Because cavemen had it harder than people in the civil war, and people in the dark ages had it harder than the people in the civil war, and people in WWI had it easier than the people in the Spanish inquisition times. Saying that someone is bad or or a bad attitude, that does not help anything. It simply diminishes them, and elevates the person saying it. I am nearly 50, and I do not understand young people, I just do not. But, I allow them to have a different life than I do.

  4. One more bit, when we were young we were not faced with the things young people are faced with. In college I carried around large antholgies and text books, anad notebooks and folders in a backpack. I imagine that is not how they communicate. We shared 1 phone line in my apartment. I am sure that does not happen now. My point is, we never considered these things when we were young, and young people are living with them. How they react to this cannot be realistically compared to our life experience.

  5. If these little snowflakes think college is tough, wait until their parent kick them out of the basement and they have to deal with the real world. Woe is me.

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