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Mental illnesses more significant among college students than non-students

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Mental Illness

Journalism freshman Harley Harrell poses as an anxious student in Bizzell Library Nov. 22. Anxiety is one of the most popular disorders recorded on college campuses, along with depression, eating disorders and PTSD.

Mental illness affects college students more often than those who are not students, interfering with their schoolwork, social life and overall self-esteem.

In a work-study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, it was determined that about 20-22 percent of college students on campus have had some significant issues with depression or anxiety, Harry Wright, clinical psychologist and OU adjunct professor, said.

“I went to speak with the people at Goddard and asked them anecdotally if that was true here, and they said it was pretty accurate,” Wright said.

One in four adults will have a significant psychiatric incident ranging from acute depression to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, Wright said.

“The college campus is not immune,” Wright said. "I suspect that one of the dangers is the whole issue of potential suicide and danger to one's self. That can be a potentially significant outcome to any type of mental health issue.”

There are many myths and stigmas to the topic of mental disorders. Wright said that one of these myths is that people aren’t open to talking to anyone.

“One of the common myths is that people don’t talk about it. Well, they do. They give signs. These may be small and they may be big, but there will be signs,” Wright said.

The most popular disorders recorded on college campuses are depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, Wright said.


“A lot of this, I think, is connected to stress. When you get underneath it, you see many students have experienced a type of trauma. That can contribute to depression,” Wright said.

According the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depressive disorders include the presence of sad, empty or irritable mood that is accompanied by alterations in the parts of the brain that affect movement and thinking. This affects the individual’s capacity to function. What varies between each patient is the duration, timing and the causation.

“Other symptoms include anhedonia, which is the loss of pleasure in one’s life," Wright said. "Also, patients experience a sense of low motivation and low energy mixed with thoughts of hopelessness and a lack of purpose in life (and) thinking and feeling like life is overwhelming."

"Patients will often withdraw from society and fail to take care of themselves. They will experience sleep interruption and appetite disruption whether they eat or sleep too much or too little,” Wright said.

Elementary education and Spanish freshman Samantha Mills was diagnosed with clinical depression in high school, and she said she suffered from sleepiness, weight loss and moodiness.

She said the stress of the schoolwork in high school was primarily the cause of the depression, and she sought help through a psychiatrist and was prescribed antidepressants.

“Depression is a lifelong disease, so every once in a while, I’ll notice symptoms coming back. I think overall, it’s pretty well-handled,” Mills said.


“Anxiety is when you have feelings of apprehension. It slows one down. A certain amount of anxiety is good because it can be a motivator, but too much anxiety can immobilize someone," Wright said. "So it’s like we need to have anxiety to do well in our classes, but if the anxiety is stopping you from what you have to do, then it is getting in the way.” 

Environmental sustainability junior Carol Mayen suffers from anxiety, comparing it to swimming underwater for extended periods of time.

“Before I beat it, I felt like I was swimming, trying to cross the pool without breathing, but once you get to that point where you’re struggling to breathe but you have to get to the other side of the pool. You want to be able to breathe, but you can’t go for it,” Mayen said.

Mayen said she suffered from anxiety and depression, the combination being difficult to manage.

“I had no self-worth. I just wanted to stay in bed and not do anything, but at the same time, I had to do something," Mayen said. "You get really jittery, and you can’t not do anything because that will make the anxiety worse.” 

Mayen said she would wake up and feel so low that she would question her purpose and ask herself why she’s still alive.

“You’re constantly worrying and worrying. It’s so much more than just worrying about school; it’s worrying about school and the way you look and 'becoming one' with society. Instead of paying attention in class, you’re worrying about why you can’t understand something,” Mayen said.

Mayen said she found solace and salvation in the word of God, and becoming more involved with the religious communities around campus chased her demons away.

“I started doing Young Life. I had this leader, and she helped me so much. She would tell me and show me things in the bible. She taught me that it didn’t matter what other people thought of me but what Jesus thought of me and how I viewed myself,” Mayen said.

Mayen encourages anyone struggling with depression or anxiety to talk to someone.

“Try to find something healthy that you can do to overcome it. Just know that there’s so much more. If you give up now, you’re giving up on the opportunity to find out who you truly are,” Mayen said.

Eating Disorders

“Eating disorders mostly affect females, but they can also affect males. It’s certainly a serious one and can be a deadly one,” Wright said.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, anorexia nervosa is the restriction of food that leads to a significant loss in weight in context to body type, age and sex. This could be linked to the intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behavior of that interferes with weight gain.  

There are two sub-types of anorexia nervosa.       

Restricting type: This is the most common form of anorexia. It involves an individual severely reducing their food intake.This presents a significant loss in weight.

Binge-eating/purging type: This eating disorder is linked to several episodes of binge eating and purging while restricting their food intake.

Mills said her parents feared she had an eating disorder after they noticed her weight loss, but the psychiatrist said it was just a symptom of her clinical depression.


“It’s estimated that 20-25 percent of people who have been deployed have the potential to develop some kind of acute stress disorder, which has the possibility to morph into long-term post-traumatic stress,” Wright said.

There are various symptoms to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including apprehension, flashbacks, heightened startle reflex and a hypersensitivity to reminders of the trauma in the environment, Wright said.

“You take something from the past (and) you put it onto the present. If you had a deep relationship with someone and it ended, because it didn’t go well, you have heightened memory of that pain. If you meet someone new, you will put the face of the past onto the present,” Wright said.

With the rise of sexual assault, there are more women that suffer from PTSD than men throughout the total population, Wright said. This isn’t including the military.

“This is something that’s hard to tell on a college campus because we don’t know if there was a trauma before the student got on campus,” Wright said.

Mental illness is a common trend among college students. About 44 percent of all college students suffer from depression, and about 15 percent of severely depressed patients act out suicidal behavior, Wright said. He said, the college campus isn't immune to mental illness, and people should be aware of the signs of issues a peer might be experiencing. 

"If a person notices their friend experiencing some type of mental illness, they should seek help. Sometimes they're scared of getting their friend in trouble, but you need to involve someone. If their friend is mad at them, so be it. Better to be mad at them while they’re alive rather than when they’re dead," Wright said. 

Brianna Sims is a journalism freshman and news reporter at the Daily.

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