By Ashley Coker / Staff Writer
The number of students visiting college counseling centers has increased 29.6 percent over the last six years, according to a 2015 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH).
The CCMH, housed at Penn State University, collected data from 139 college counseling centers across the country during the 2014-15 school year, including MTSU. Their report found that the demand for counseling services has grown approximately five times faster than the average college enrollment rate.
“The findings in this year’s report strongly suggest that a decade of efforts, aimed at building communities that are responsive to the mental health concerns of at-risk students, have been successful, ” the report reads.
Studies have consistently found anxiety and depression to be the two most common presenting problems at college counseling centers. In the CCMH report, clinicians listed anxiety as their “top-most concern” for 20 percent of the patients they saw, followed by depression at 15.8 percent of patients.
A 2016 assessment by the American College Health Association (ACHA) uncovered similar findings. The report states that 17 percent of students surveyed said they have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety in the last 12 months, while 13.9 percent said they have been diagnosed or treated for depression. Moreover, 10.6 percent of students reported being diagnosed or treated for anxiety and depression concurrently.
People suffering from anxiety and depression are typically offered similar treatment plans. Both disorders can be treated with psychotherapy, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
“As with any illness, treatment should be tailored to a specific diagnosis. Several forms of psychotherapy are effective,” the ADAA states on their website. “Medications can also be useful. Symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders often occur together, and research shows that both respond to treatment with medications. For people with severe symptoms or functional limitations, psychotherapy and medication treatment may be combined.”
The CCMH found that about one-third of students who seek help at campus counseling centers have taken or are currently taking one or more psychotropic medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, stimulants and mood stabilizers.
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2005 to 2008 concluded that antidepressants were the most common prescription drug among people between the ages of 18 and 44 and the most prevalent psychotropic medications in the United States.
There are three main types of antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Which drug a patient is prescribed depends on their specific disorder, medical history and past experience with antidepressants.
SSRIs and SNRIs, which were first developed in the late 1980s, are the most widely prescribed antidepressants across every age group, due in large part to their reputation for being safe drugs with minimal side effects. SSRIs relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety by blocking the brain’s reabsorption of serotonin, therefore increasing the level of available serotonin in the body. SNRIs work the same way, but affect both serotonin and norepinephrine.
MAOIs proceeded SSRIs and SNRIs, appearing on the scene in the 1950s, but are now prescribed much less often, as they are known to cause major side effects and interact poorly with certain foods and other prescription drugs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These drugs limit the brain’s monoamine oxidase enzymes from removing serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine from the body. They are generally prescribed to people who have found SSRIs and SNRIs ineffective.
SSRIs and SNRIs are considered safe for most people, but some patients do experience negative side effects. One of the most concerning adverse effects in young adults is an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and ideas. The FDA requires that all antidepressants carry a black-box warning, their strictest labeling method, that indicates this risk. More common side effects include nausea, drowsiness, weight change and decreased sexual desire.
MTSU Counseling Services provides both in-house psychiatric services and referrals to professionals in the Murfreesboro community. MTSU is among 74 of the 139 schools contributing to the CCMH report to offer any kind psychiatric help on campus.
Students seeking psychiatric help must make their first Counseling Services appointment with a therapist. From there, the therapist and the student will work together to determine the best course of action, according to Carolyn Jackson, a mental health counselor at MTSU.
If a therapist decides a student would benefit from medication management, whether they see a psychiatrist on campus or are referred elsewhere depends on their specific challenges. Because Counseling Services is staffed with only seven therapists and two psychiatrists, they are unable to provide students with long-term treatment.
“Students that are going through shorter-term issues, like freshman suffering from homesickness or seniors who are afraid to graduate and go out into the world, are perfect candidates to see one of our psychiatrists and receive medication,” Jackson said.
“We also meet a lot of students who have more long-term problems, like a history of abuse. What we do for those folks is find someone in Murfreesboro who accepts their insurance and could see them as long as need to be seen.”
Jackson sees multiple students who are new to Counseling Services each week. As research suggests, she said most of these students present with anxiety and depression symptoms.
Jackson tells every student she counsels about the psychiatric services available to them, but she said she is “usually not one to suggest medication right off the bat.”
“I tell students that starting medication is a very big and important choice that I want them to take seriously. They are considering taking a medication that will affect their mood,” Jackson said. “I think medication is helpful. I believe therapy is too, and I often encourage students to try coping skills like yoga and journaling before medication.”
MTSU Counseling Services is located in KUC 326-S. You can make an appointment with a counselor by calling (615) 898-2670 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
This story originally ran in MTSU Sidelines’ October 2016 print edition. For more information, contact Editor-in-Chief Sarah Grace Taylor or firstname.lastname@example.org