By JILL GUEST
When graduating from college, a degree may not be the only thing a students finishes with. Because of the stress, students may leave a university with an anxiety disorder accompanying their diploma.
More than 23 million Americans, many between the ages of 18-24, deal with higher stress resulting in anxiety disorders including: panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and general anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
“It is important for college students to know that anxiety disorders are very real and frightening, but treatable illnesses. Through research supported and conducted by NIMH, we know that the onset of these diseases is most common in college-age individuals,” said Elaine Baldwin, director of the NIMH Anxiety Disorders Education Program.
For the past four years, the NIMH has campaigned on panic disorders. Last fall they expanded their campaign to explain obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, phobias and generalized anxiety disorders.
“For years many people went undiagnosed. There isn’t a great amount of data because the disorders were not distinguished. Within the past 15 years the disorders have become more recognized and understood,” said Dr. Yna McCann, expert spokesperson and the chief of the unit on anxiety disorders at the NIMH.
Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror without warning. A person may experience chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and fear.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that are repeated and seem impossible to stop or control.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is evident when persistent symptoms occur after undergoing traumatic experiences ranging from child abuse, crashes, war and rape. A person may experience flashbacks, depression, anger, nightmares and other symptoms.
There are two types of phobias people may experience: specific and social. People may limit their lives according to their fears.
Generalized anxiety disorders are chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday routine life events and activities. They have to last for at least six months. People may experience physical symptoms and anticipation of the worst. Signs may include fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches or nausea.
“If you lump anxiety disorders together, the peak ages affected are those people of college age,” McCann said.
Students can guard against increasing anxiety disorders or attacks by increasing awareness.
Aiming for things that are do-able, such as regular exercise and avoiding irregular sleeping patterns, crazy schedules and getting a set amount of sleep can help reduce anxiety, McCann said.
“Drug and alcohol use may cause withdrawals that tend to raise anxiety levels. Caffeine, stimulants and marijuana can also induce panic attacks and raise levels of anxiety,” McCann said. “If you know you have a family history with anxiety disorders, you need to be careful and cautious concerning aspects that may cause an increase.”
However, anxiety disorders can sometimes be linked with depression and can be secondary conditions that accompany other medical illnesses, said Ted Barratt, admissions coordinator at Benchmark Behavioral Health Systems in Midvale.
Local general or psychiatric hospitals and community mental health agencies can render information and health tips as well as assessments to those who are searching for answers.
The NIMH offers free information about anxiety disorders and can be reached at 1-888-8-ANXIETY.
On April 3, BYU will be participating in National College Anxiety Disorders Screening. The screening will involve a video followed with a questionnaire. Students will have the opportunity to talk to counselors concerning scores from the questionnaire to gain an assessment of their situation.
“The college screening project can help to improve the quality of life for thousands of students who take this first step toward diagnosis and treatment,” Baldwin said.