The semester at my institution just ended. Commencement was last week. The past few weeks were a very intense time period as I hastily tried to juggle many things — grading essays, reading graduate theses, conducting independent studies and other academic tasks. Indeed, I felt like I was running ragged. My coffee consumption increased dramatically. Now, for the moment, I can breathe a little easier. Thank goodness.
Truth be told, the final weeks of a semester (or quarter) depending on the sort of academic institution where one works, can be a frantic and harrowing time for individuals, students, professors and administrators alike. This fact in and of itself is nothing new. That being said, I was slapped into a degree of mental soberness last fall after speaking with a few students who informed me that they had been and were suffering from an acute level of anxiety and depression. In fact, a couple of stories were so riveting that I almost became overwhelmed just listening. In fact, I encouraged and arranged for two of these students to seek personal help.
The fact is that more than a few college students suffer from anxiety and depression. In a 2012 column written by Michael Kerr and confirmed by Dr. George Krudk reported the following statistics:
· One out of every four college students suffers from a form of mental illness, including depression;
· 44 percent of American college students report having symptoms of depression;
· 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health problems;
· Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students;
· Young people diagnosed with depression are five times more likely to attempt suicide than adults;
· Four out of every five college students who either contemplate or attempt suicide show clear warning signs.
The reason for such behavior varies. Intrusive thoughts, varied distractions, sleep deprivation, friendships that turn sour, a sudden or bad breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, academic, social or financial difficulties and feelings of hopelessness are among the reasons.
Other risk and often undiagnosed factors include:
· substance abuse;
· a family history of depression and mental illness;
· a prior suicide attempt;
· access to guns;
· exposure to other students who have committed suicide;
· self-harming behaviors, such as burning or cutting.
College is supposed to be a time of learning, growth and self-discovery for young people — and for many people it is. College can be and is frequently a very stressful environment for a notable number of young adults. This is even more likely the case today, given the lethargic economy and the less-than-fulfilled feelings that more than a few people of all age groups have about the current state of national and international affairs.
The times are indeed a sobering reminder.
Given the social stigma that has been associated with depression, mental illness and suicide, many students are reluctant to seek or even admit that they have a problem. The perceived level of potential embarrassment and shame is often too overwhelming. Others may not even be aware of their predicament or are living in denial. Predicaments and circumstances notwithstanding, it is important that all of us, regardless of our station in life, make an effort to aid and assist any young person who is at risk for such personal and potential destruction in the hopes of preventing such a tragedy.
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Could training in implicit bias be helpful at your institution?