Categories
Addiction

Are College Years Really the Time of Your Life?

It is believed that your college years are “the best years of your life.” When discussing prospective colleges that are considering taking you into their campuses, there is always at least one family member or friend talking about the friends and memories they had made during their own college years. However, many people forget the overwhelming amount of homework and studying, peer pressure, adapting to a new environment, meeting entirely new people, and working to try to earn money. When combining all of these terrifying and overwhelming aspects of “the college years,” it can be hard to see it as the best time of your life. These experiences lead to feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness which in turn can lead many students looking to drugs for relief or enhancement of their performance.

Many of the drugs that are commonly abused on college campuses include Vicodin, Percocet, marijuana, Adderall and Ritalin (Spencer, 2017; Anders, 2017). Use of these drugs turned into an epidemic that seems to be running rampant on college campuses. The stresses experienced in college push these students to abuse Vicodin, Percocet, and marijuana. in order to get relief from their stress and anxiety. At times, these drugs even provide students relief from loneliness (Spencer, 2017).

Other drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin provide more performance enhancement than relief. These are stimulant drugs, which are typically prescribed to those suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (RxList, n.d.). These drugs are typically used by college students to pull all-nighters to study for an exam or get a paper done before an 8 AM class. They are also used because they are believed to help students perform better on their homework, studying and exams. Findings by Curries, Stabile & Jones (2014) dispute the allegations that stimulants improve students’ performance in school and claim that they don’t improve school performance and reiterating the fact that the harmful effects outweigh the beneficial ones. Even for those taking these drugs for a legitimate reason such as ADHD.

Unfortunately, this continues to be a dangerous and common problem in universities all over America. Universities do have the opportunity to simply enact new programs to show support for students that are struggling with this problem and to limit the risk of new students developing it. By creating mandated programs for students, parents and all staff at the university, at-risk individuals can be taught how to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse, what to do when someone is abusing drugs/overdosing and what these commonly abused drugs. To go a step further, institutions can apply for more recovery programs, place overdose reversal kits in every building, implement drug tests in dorms and increase the number of psychological services available (Spencer, 2017).

Students in college suffering from drug abuse are commonly seen as “failures,” “bad people,” but they don’t see that “having a substance use disorder is like having diabetes or a heart condition” (Spencer, 2017). Despite mental illnesses being hard to see the visible aspects of them, their effects are real and damaging much like physical illnesses. So, the very least universities can strive to help these students feel more positively about seeking help instead of furthering the stigmas associated with drugs.

References:

Adderall vs. Ritalin. (n.d.). RxList. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/adderall_vs_ritalin/drugs-condition.htm

Anders, C. (November 17, 2017). College Students Far Overestimate Student Abuse, Research Finds. Indiana Daily Student News. Retrieved from http://www.idsnews.com/article/2017/11/ciadhd

Currie, J., Stabile, M., & Jones, L. (2014). Do Stimulant Medications Improve Educational and Behavioral Outcomes for Children with ADHD? Journal of Health Economics, 37, 58-69. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2014.05.002

Spencer, K. (October 30, 2017). Opioids on the Quad. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/education/edlife/opioids-college-recovery-addiction.html

Categories
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Taking off the Invisibility Cloak

“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”

Dalai Lama XIV summed up the essential nature of social interactions with this statement. He believes that humans need each other to progress and develop in life, and without co-dependence, it is difficult to further oneself in life. Stronger together, he urged. College is a time where people invest in the future they’ve always dreamed of, it can be a demanding and trying period in a student’s life. The support of fellow students and professors can be key to success, and reaching out for help may make messy situations drastically easier. However, if students are being hindered by anxiety about social interactions, college can become more difficult.

Social anxiety is defined by the DSM-V as the “fear or anxiety about social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.” For example, social situations involving a conversation with someone, or meeting an unfamiliar person, or being observed (for example while eating or drinking), and/or performing in front of others, can almost always produce anxiety in people who suffer from social anxiety (DSM-V).  The prevalence of social anxiety on college campuses has increased tremendously, however, have the resources to accommodate this disorder grown parallel (Weaver 2012)? How can a person with social anxiety navigate the plethora of social situations a student can be exposed to, such as: on-campus employment,  group projects, class presentations, attending professor office hours or even writing emails, during their time at college?

An individual’s living condition can either provide stability or break the peace of mind of that individual. For people with social anxiety, a place where they are comfortable is a place where they can escape to after a long day of socializing. This location is crucial for their health. A thread on a website called ‘Social Anxiety Support’ discusses people’s experiences of living in a college dorm could be like. A user called CaptainRoommate said, “I’m sure everyone in my hall thought I was a complete jerk because I didn’t talk to them. Some of the more outgoing people made an effort but I was dismissive. They left me alone most of the time, and the last three years I lived in an apartment.” Another user called Dead Leaves states, “ I lived with three roommates my freshman year of college. I tend to be a pretty open guy, so details about my social anxiety and depression were known to them after a few months. I began to withdraw when I started to worry I was boring them.” These stories share a common theme: avoidance from the fear that they were being negatively evaluated. Negative evaluation is the hallmark of social anxiety– the fear of being rejected, humiliated or even offensive can lead people to withdraw from their social situations (DSM-V). In a post in the HuffPost, Jessica G. gave insight into what goes on inside the head of someone suffering from social anxiety: “I actually find myself talking a lot when I am with my friends… in my mind I’m telling myself, be quiet, you’re talking too much, no one cares, everyone is judging you.

While the residential setup of college campuses can be distressing for people who suffer from social anxiety, achieving the academic expectations in a social environment can also be extremely challenging. ‘Social Anxiety Support’ discusses a user named SArainadash’s academic struggle: “I get tense when a class is about to start. I’m too anxious to eat in the dining halls. I haven’t made a single friend. I looked through every of my college classes’ syllabus, there is just no way I can cope with all those presentations, interviews, speeches, etc. My biggest nightmare right now is not being able to drop out… I know it sounds crazy but I just can’t do these things without shaking in embarrassment. I do not want to attend college until my social anxiety subsides.” A user named ‘gthopia94’ responded to him saying, “I barely made it through 2 months of college a couple of years ago. Don’t even know why I even bothered in the first place.” The narration of such incidents brings to light that surely, dropping out cannot be the only solution for people who suffer from social anxiety in college. Between facing extreme discomfort and dropping out there must be a middle ground, an area of compromise where they can receive accommodations for their comfortability.  A 10-year summary report done by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health in 2015 showed that the overall growth in enrollment at universities was responsible for an increased usage of psychological counseling services, and the rise in demand for such services outpace that of enrollment growth by five times as much, thus making them available to fewer people (Kwai 2016).

While more effort to increase psychological counseling facilities on college campuses is imperative, perhaps an action for bigger change is also appropriate and necessary for all people who have to silently struggle with social anxiety. In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission defined the “ability to interact with others” as a major life activity, bringing social anxiety disorder under the protection afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Cubbage 2015). While the world is growing and developing exponentially, and all of us are running our rat races, it is important to look back and ensure that we’re providing support and equal opportunities to everyone. Social anxiety affects 7 to 13 percent of the population on the western hemisphere, depending on the diagnostic threshold (Furmark, 2002). Having the ability to access resources provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one step towards making college a less stressful experience, but we can surely do more to accommodate the needs of those with social anxiety.

References:

Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm05

Contributed by EmpowHER writer Rheyanne Weaver. (2013, November 16). Social Anxiety Can Be a Hidden Problem in College. Retrieved October 06, 2017, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/social-anxiety-college-students-0717126

College Kids: How’d You Survive Dorm Life?? (1969, December 31). Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/forum/f26/college-kids-how-d-you-survive-dorm-life-139302/

Mighty, T. (2017, September 19). 24 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because Of Your Social Anxiety. Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/24-things-people-dont-realize-youre-doing-because_us_59b2cfdde4b0c50640cd66e0

College big problem. (2017, March 10). Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/forum/f289/college-big-problem-2067425/

Anxiety over Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA for Social Anxiety Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2017, from https://www.natlawreview.com/article/anxiety-over-reasonable-accommodation-under-ada-social-anxiety-disorder

Furmark, T. (2002, April 04). Social phobia: overview of community surveys. Retrieved October 06, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1034/j.1600-0447.2002.1r103.x/full

Categories
Bipolar Disorder

Young, Bipolar, and in College

In many cases, we read and empathize with the experiences of adults living with Bipolar Disorder; but what about the teens and young adults just barely exposed to the working world? “Anyone can develop bipolar disorder, including children and teens,” although bipolar disorder usually manifests in late teen or early adulthood years. But do the stresses of college life, which those in their late teens and early adult years experience, initiate the illness for individuals at risk for the disorder and worsen the condition of students with bipolar disorder? Michele Hoos from Health.com believes so.

The college environment involves a lifestyle of stress derived from academic pressures, social concerns, and irregular sleeping patterns. We can all agree it may be difficult to wake up for an eight or nine AM class after studying until two in the morning or find time to balance studies with a job or other responsibilities. At the same time, without support, treatment and knowledge of what one’s body is capable of doing, “bipolar college students face higher dropout rates, drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicide” (Hoo, 2010).

Woo emphasizes that being able to thrive and avoid triggers to bipolar episodes require a plan. The importance of taking proper medications, scheduling counseling, and having access to medical care on campus, as well as avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol, are major parts of the plan. Maintaining a balanced sleep and study schedule and being able to reach out to peer support groups are also crucial aspects of success in the college environment. Having an available support system at school is one of the most important steps to take for students already diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In some cases, “students who have been stabilized on medication while at home may need to fine-tune their prescriptions while at school” (Hoo, 2010).

In a reflection, Rebecca Lombardo, a published author, bipolar blogger and mental health advocate, recalls being nineteen years old diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She emphasizes the impact on being on the earth a short period of time, alluding to her youth, and foreshadows the many bad days to come. Rebecca, very truthful to her diagnoses, creates a comfortable space for the reader as she brings the reader into her perspective of life. She normalizes mental illnesses by comparing it to diabetes, an illness familiar to most and juxtaposing it to stress the intangible aspect of Bipolar disorder as an illness of the mind. In the reflection, Rebecca tells herself how to deal with social activities such as dating and encourages herself not to isolate from the outside world while indirectly giving the same advice to those who find themselves in the same shoes – young, Bipolar and in college.

This letter is addressed to Rebecca’s younger self but in reality is a letter to those going through similar experiences as herself. Rebecca is helping those who are in their late teens or early adulthood cope with the changes they face by letting them know that they are not alone. She encourages honesty in order to create tight bonds with people who will be supportive and exposes the stigma surrounding mental illness in our greater society.

Concluding her letter, Rebecca motivates the youth diagnosed with bipolar disorder or in a broader sense, mental illness, by making late teens and young adults feel like they are not alone. She states that “there will be a light around the corner. You just have to follow the path to get to it” and reminds them to be youthful just like she reminds herself to “just be 19-years-old first.” Rebecca acknowledges that everyone’s experiences with mental illness are unique by suggesting that individuals should not “compare [their] illness to someone else” because “[everyone’s] journey will be completely different” (Lombardo, 2016). She also shines light on the similarities the youth face by making the reader comfortable and confident to battle future struggles to come. Looking back from a later point of view Rebecca hints that the youth will make it through and that the future them is waiting.            

With the four S’s of bipolar disorder: creating structure, managing stress, getting enough sleep and self-monitoring (but not limited to), young adults with bipolar disorder can adopt healthy strategies for success. Bipolar diagnosis is not a sentence, and with yet another “S” – support, and time college students can thrive in the campus environment.  

References:

Forbes, E. (2010, April 1). College & Bipolar: Strategies for Success. Retrieved March 12, from http://www.bphope.com/kids-children-teens/bipolar-college-success/

Hoos, M. (2010, September 21). Back to school with bipolar? How college can unleash mania. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/21/health.bipolar.college/

Lombardo, R. (2016, December 9). To The 19-Year-Old Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder I. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/to-the-19-year-old-diagnosed-with-bipolar-disorder_us_584a9dd4e4b0151082221a2d

NIH. (2015). Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-children-and-teens/index.shtml