Students with Mental Illness Face Unique Challenges on Campus
> 12/8/2006 11:35:42 AM

The transitions between adolescence and adulthood, living at home and working toward independence, pose extreme challenges for every incoming college student. But these issues only further compound the circumstances of those who enter school suffering from major mental illness. In addition to the obvious changes in social structure and responsibility, these students have to change the particulars of their treatment to fit their new surroundings.

Nearly every student will move through the inevitable mood swings and self-doubts that come with freshman year, and many will find themselves in the student counselling office more than once. For those diagnosed with or medicated for major depression or any number of similar conditions, academic workload and social activities often revolve around medication and treatment schedules, and the hopefully false impression that peers do not understand or appreciate the gravity of their situations can foster further difficulty. Researchers have long documented the rising instance of mental illness on college campuses, and the numbers continue to rise. Surveys indicate that almost one half of American college students have endured episodes of depression severe enough to make daily functions very difficult during their time at school and that one in ten have seriously considered suicide at least once. In response to troubles with the required adjustments in lifestyle, some will turn to alcohol abuse, which is by far the most common health risk among college students.

The latest chapter in the New York Times' ongoing series on children and teens with mental illness presents the cases of freshmen with extensive mental health histories and the complexities they face. From living situations to study habits, these students must work from different templates than their classmates, often preferring to keep their issues concealed from the public in order to avoid unnecessary tension. Degrees of parental concern and involvement are also major subjects for debate. Losing direct oversight of a child brings natural stresses to every parent, but those with kids dealing with mental illness bring a special kind of anxiety to the table. Will schools be able to adequately address the individual needs of each child? Will outside treatment be necessary? If so, which will be the most convenient and effective venues? Fortunately, there are multple organizations specifically designed to address these concerns, and they operate on the local and national levels. Most schools have some form of support networking. Student-led groups like Active Minds offer students a forum to talk with peers about mental health issues and work to foster a community of understanding and shared goals. College students suffering from mental illness have a special list of unique concerns, and as their numbers increase we can only commend schools that undergo progressive changes to better accomodate them and ease the growing pains so common to all kids making such important transitions.

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