The number of college students on psychiatric medicines increased over 10 percent over the last 10 years, according to a study presented by the American Psychological Association (APA).
The survey looked at 3,256 college students who accessed college counseling support between September 1997 and August 2009 at a mid-sized private university. Students were screened for mental disorders, suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behavior, according to an APA press release.
Of the sample, 11 percent of the clinical sample reported using psychiatric medications in 1998. Over a decade later, 24 percent of those attending counseling reported using these medications.
Last year UC Davis’ Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) treated about 14 percent of the student body and they are ahead of that pace this year.
“We have had to change our first contact system to help students more easily access services as we respond to the increase in students seeking service,” said CAPS Director Emil Rodolfa, Ph.D. “Clearly our staffing is not adequate to meet the growing student need. To give you some context, in 2001 CAPS treated 7 percent of the student body.”
According to Rodolfa, the CAPS budget is over $2 million. Almost all of the funds come from student registration fees.
Davis psychologist Carmen Isais, Ph.D., said she has been treating more patients with anxiety and depression in recent years, partly due to economic conditions.
“Anxiety is the close cousin to depression,” Isais said. “The two go back and forth. I’ve dealt with a lot of students who are not having great expectations about the future and second guessing their majors and not feeling like they have great security blankets after college because a lot of their parents are losing their houses or jobs.”
Georganna Sedlar, Ph.D., psychologist assistant clinical professor at the Department of Pediatrics at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, said it is possible that the stress and adjustment of attending college may exacerbate depression symptoms that perhaps were being well managed prior to attending.
“I think we understand more about depression and what is effective in treating depression in general, and I think there have been great efforts to reduce stigma of mental health problems overall,” Sedlar said. “I think more students are likely being identified before they enter college and thus more willing to seek help once they arrive on campus.”
The American College Health Association did a survey of over 50,000 students and found that at some point during the academic year, 45 percent of students experienced a depression so severe it interfered with their ability to complete their academic work. According to CAPS research, at UC Davis, about 30 percent of the students treated at CAPS report feeling depressed and 41 percent report feeling debilitating anxiety.
“Both anxiety and depression are problems that can be treated by staff at CAPS,” Rodolfa said. “I hope students whose feelings are interfering with their academic performance or relationships will seek out CAPS services.”
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.