According to an article published on March 13 in The New York Times, research shows that young people in the United States have become increasingly anxious and depressed since the 1930s. Asked the same questions at roughly the same age, youth in this country are experiencing symptoms of these issues to a greater degree. Students at Seattle University follow the same trend.
Paige Reohr, a sophomore psychology major, is no stranger to these problems. Anxiety and depression affect her like they do many Seattle U students. But, like other students, she finds it hard to describe exactly what it feels like.
“Most of the time people can’t see it. It’s confusing to be in pain but not be able to point and say ‘This is where it hurts,’” Reohr said. “I’d call it a reaction to a stimulus that deviates from the norm—like finding danger in something perfectly safe or being threatened by a situation that hasn’t come yet. It’s that adrenaline being triggered by everyday activity.”
The same article in The Times introduced Dr. Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University and the author of “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable than Ever Before.” She studies the mental health of young people and has published several articles on the subject. The words anxiety and depression mean different things to different people, especially when you consider how different life was back in 1935 when research began.
According to Twenge, researchers avoided this issue by relying on surveys and inventories in which respondents were asked about symptoms linked with anxiety and depression. Questions about the amount of sleep you get, how rested you feel, whether you experience dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, and so on, mean
the same thing now as they did in 1935. Twenge believes “modern life” is to blame.
“Obviously there’s a lot of good things about societal and technological progress,” she said. “and in a lot of ways our lives are much easier than, say, our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ lives. But there’s a paradox here that we seem to have so much ease and relative economic prosperity compared to previous centuries, yet there’s this dissatisfaction, there’s this unhappiness, there are these mental health issues in terms of depression and anxiety.”
For sophomore Alyssa Lau, anxiety and depression are hard to define. But she said they feel like an inexplicable source of stress, or a concern about something urgent that you can’t do anything about.
“You don’t know what to do or where to even begin,” Lau said.
A lot of things make her feel anxious, Lau said. Social situations, giving speeches and interviews, meeting newpeople—allofthesethingsmake her heart race. Thinking about what will happen after college has the same effect.
“Am I going to be happy? Successful? Will I be able to pay off the student loans? What is my life going to be like? Is it dangerous?” Lau said. “When I over think situations, especially regarding health, that throws me into a fit of anxiety.”
Alvin Sturdivant is the assistant vice president of student development at Seattle U. The way he sees it, college in and of itself, is a stressor that intensifies issues students have to deal with. Many of them, he says, are stumbling under heavy expectations to get good grades and overcome potentially dangerous influences like sex, drugs and alcohol. Sturdivant added that students now are taking more medication and commonly come previously diagnosed with a mental disorder.
“The frame has changed,” Sturdivant said, in reference to what it was like when he went to college.
There are several departments at Seattle U charged with the responsibility to provide for mental health needs: Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Student Health Center, Health and Wellness Promotion, University Recreation and the Disabilities Services Office. These groups are working together to develop what they call a Comprehensive Health and Wellness Strategy, which will help them better understand and meet the mental health needs of students.
According to Sturdivant, mental health services here are “consistently at capacity,” which is why the university is looking to hire an additional psychologist and a Case Manager to help support the student body. The administration is working hard to provide proper mental health services for its students, and to make sure they know that help is available.
“We understand more about what students are experiencing, and are in a position to do more about it,” Sturdivant said.
Nick may be reached at [email protected]