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By Bree Hernandez

November 27, 2012 (San Diego) -- There are many ways of encouraging young people to go to college, and community events like the popular “college for kids” day are good starting places. Once students enroll, our obligations to them do not end, as today’s post discusses.

Education writer Bree Hernandez takes a look at important new data suggesting that more college-age kids than ever before are suffering from mental illness.

Deteriorating Mental Health in Students at Colleges in Masters Programs

A recent survey by the American College Counseling Association found that 44% of students in counseling have severe psychological disorders, up from 16% in 2000. At the same time, 24% are on psychiatric medication, up from 17% a decade ago. Similar results were found in a study presented at the 2010 convention of the American Psychological Association, which found that severe mental illness is more common among college students than it was a decade prior. “University and college counseling services around the country are reporting that the needs of students seeking services are escalating toward more severe psychological problems,” says John Guthman, PhD and author of the study.

For students in graduate school, increased rigors can exacerbate the problem. In a university-sponsored survey of UC Berkeley's graduate and professional school students, nearly half of student respondents said they'd had an emotional or stress-related dilemma that significantly impaired their well-being or academic performance within the past year. 54% of students reported experiencing depression and 1 in 10 admitted they had seriously considered suicide.

“Once students arrive on campus, the unique ivory tower setting can greatly influence their health,”says Mort Silverman, senior adviser at the National Suicide Prevention Technical Resource Center in Waltham, Mass. Silverman points to factors in grad school such as the competitive climate, relative seclusion in the lab or library, myriad financial concerns and constant worries about future employment as potential psychosocial triggers for students.

In order to handle the increasing numbers of students suffering from mental illness, many universities have launched programs and grown their counseling centers. Cornell University in Ithaca, NY has developed an extensive suicide prevention program and a comprehensive disability services offices. Recently, though, the school has pulled back on some of its offerings, as students have been found to be scheduling appointments simply as a medical excuse for missing class or failing to turn in an assignment. “It was not a good use of the university's resources,” says Greg Eells, director of counseling and psychological services at the school. Some schools officials have also expressed concern that increased mental health services increase the abilities of students to access and abuse prescription stimulants like Adderall, a growing problem on many campuses.

While abuses may be increasing, reports from the American College Counseling Association's survey indicate that many high risk students could still benefit from increased access to services. Their survey shows that of the 133 student suicides reported from 320 institutions in 2009, less than half had sought help on campus.

However, there are still many ways students can positively impact their mental well-being without professional assistance. Proper physical health through regular exercise and nutritious eating habits can make a notable impact on one's outlook, for instance, as can a regular social life. While the demands of university studies can at times lead to unhealthy habits, regular sleeping patterns, communication with friends and family and diet have all been shown to have a significant positive effect on mental health. By taking care of oneself and if necessary and remaining open to university mental health resources, students can ensure their college experience provides enjoyable and effective preparation for one's career and adult life.

Bree Hernandez is a blogger who focuses on quality education that can be obtained through the Internet, and has expertise on to student wellbeing.

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