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Survey: student anxiety continues to rise nationally

Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer

This is the seventh consecutive year that anxiety was the top concern for students. About 50 percent of students who sought counseling in the 2015-16 academic year had anxiety, according to the survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

As visits to the Syracuse University Counseling Center rise, so has the demand for counseling services at colleges across the nation, with students increasingly exhibiting higher levels of anxiety.

There was a 25 percent rise in students seeking treatment over the five years leading up to the 2015-16 academic year at SU.

This statistic aligns with a national trend of students who are served by college counseling centers having increased levels of anxiety, according to a recently published survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors’ during the 2015-16 academic year. Anxiety was the top concern among students who used mental health services at their respective colleges, per the survey.

This is the seventh consecutive year that anxiety was the top concern for students. About 50 percent of students who sought counseling in the 2015-16 academic year had anxiety, according to the survey. In comparison, about 37 percent of students who sought counseling during the 2007-08 academic year had anxiety.

Increasing anxiety among college students has been evident at the SU Counseling Center, said Cory Wallack, the center’s director.

“Generally, the stigma around seeking help for mental health services has declined,” Wallack said in an email. “As a result, our student population is more inclined to seek help today than they would have five or ten years ago.”

SU’s Counseling Center regularly assesses resources to determine if it is meeting the needs of students, Wallack said. The center has hired multiple staff therapists over the last five years and has recently expanded its Sexual and Relationship Violence Response Team, he added.

Wallack said it is difficult to predict when the rising number of students seeking counseling with anxiety and depression will even out or decline. Local, national and world events impact mental health, as well as technology and generational differences, which is why it is difficult to predict if the trend will continue, he added.

“We have to take into consideration that there are greater systemic concerns in play in terms of our country, our government and then in terms of the entire world that we are very, very much alerted to,” said Ellen deLara, an associate professor of social work in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. “As a result of social media and concerns over terrorism, immigration policies and other things that affect students, these things provoke anxiety in people and particularly college students because they’re trying to figure out what is ahead for them once they leave the college arena.”

In a world where news is updated every second through social media, deLara said that although it sometimes brings people together, social media increases anxiety.

“Many people face anxiety as a result of being linked to Facebook and seeing how everyone else looks to be so happy because that’s what the kind of pictures people post most to Facebook,” deLara said. “So they feel lesser than them.”

DeLara also said it’s tough for some students to seek help because everyone wants to handle problems themselves despite anxiety having less of a stigma around it.

The AUCCCD’s study also found that students have an average wait time of 6-8 days before getting an appointment at a college counseling center. Students tend to push it off to make themselves more comfortable and to accommodate their schedules, deLara said.

She added that the counseling center at SU does a good job at managing urgent needs and routine appointments by providing unique treatment options, such as a 24-hour hotline and group therapy. Since more students might be diagnosed with mental health-related issues prior to college, there might be a need to expand hours and availability of staff in the coming years, she added.

“Most of the time people who come for any kind of help or counseling, if they make a good connection with the counselor or therapist they are going to see an improvement in their academic performance and social life,” deLara said. “That’s obviously the hope for those of us in the mental health profession that people will do better as a result of dealing with their issues.”

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