College is the crux of the young adult’s journey toward growth, learning and independence. For an alarming number of these young adults, however, college is also where latent mental health concerns rise to the surface. In particular, anxiety disorders on college campuses have become increasingly prevalent in the past decade, in large part because the need to study and recognize mental health disorders is better understood by the academic community. In other words, the issues have always been present, only now we have the knowledge and research to officially diagnose them. The results of a 2008 joint Associated Press – mtvU survey revealed that 13% of college students in the United States have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, with many suffering from both depression and an anxiety disorder simultaneously.

On the surface, it isn’t too surprising to find that college ends up being a hotbed of anxiety. For many students, college is the first time they will live independently of their parents. The pace of college courses is considerably faster than high school courses, and students are expected to keep up with multiple courses, all laden with heavy reading and midterm and final exams that are far more difficult than any exam experienced thus far in their lives. There are new pressures and struggles to fit in, find acceptance and chart out a course for life after graduation. College is a time when the individual defines himself or herself; naturally, a little bit of stress is going to come with that.

Anxiety disorders go a little deeper than the surface, though. There are proven links of several biological and hereditary factors to most anxiety disorders. Growing up under the umbrella of parents and family, these predispositions usually do not have cause to become concerns, especially if the child grows up in a stable, loving family. Plus, all students deal with the stressors listed above, but not all suffer from diagnosable anxiety disorders. Incoming college students need to learn and understand warning signs that separate the typical anxiety that everyone experiences in their lives at one point or another from anxiety disorders that could require treatment.

The most important thing to look for when concerned about your own mental health or the mental health of a loved one is whether or not the symptoms are intrusive upon an individual’s daily life. If someone’s worried about a midterm a week away and whether or not he or she will pass it, there might not necessarily be a problem; this is a pretty common issue for all students. If that worry becomes generalized, and the student constantly fears failing midterms or finals months away, or if the worry becomes a preoccupation with the idea of failure, there might be cause for concern. Similarly, if a first year student feels a little shy about meeting new people upon moving into the dorms, then he or she isn’t much different from most incoming students. If, after a few months, the student’s fear of social interaction prevents him or her from leaving the room to go out to social events or student organizations, it might be a good idea to seek help or guidance. When anxiety prevents you from living life the way you want to live it, it’s a problem. This problem has solutions.

United States universities are becoming increasingly well equipped to handle mental health concerns. Residential Assistants (RAs), who serve as student representatives of university housing, are available to talk to about any issues a student is facing. If the situation is dire enough, most universities have specialized counseling and psychological services dedicated to the mental well-being of students, offering free or reduced rate services. These services are supplied by licensed clinicians and graduate students in the field of psychology, who are heavily trained to recognize and diagnose mental disorders.

Remember, if there is any doubt as to whether or not you or a loved one is dealing with a serious mental condition, seek help. There’s nothing to lose if you do, but a whole lot to lose if you don’t.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder »