An “Epidemic of Anguish” on College Campuses?


The Chronicle of Higher Education has called the soaring rates of anxiety and depression among college students an “Epidemic of Anguish.” PBS interviews Jennifer Ruark, the editor of the Chronicle series, and Micky Sharma, the director of counseling at Ohio State University.  Ruark reports that about “1 in 4 students reporting to campus counseling centers now are already on some kind of psychotropic medication.”  Sharma adds, “just because a student is crying does not mean he or she needs psychotherapy.  Sometimes that’s actually the type of emotional response that I would want to see.”




  1. An epidemic of colleges run like corporations. An epidemic of post-college debt slavery. An epidemic of post-college underemployment. An epidemic of capitalist hyper-individualism that strips each student’s individual predicament from the broader social context that created it, thereby turning systemic evils into perceived personal failures for each.

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    • I’m glad I kept my child away from the psychiatrists who wanted to drug him, once they learned the medical evidence of his child abuse had been handed over. And my child’s love based, not medical based, stellar recovery – going from remedial reading in first grade to getting 100% on his state standardized tests in eighth grade – apparently so embarrassed the school social workers they wanted their hands on him. Or maybe, the powers that be hope to drug, and dumb down, all the brilliant children?

      Off to private school he went. And my child is fully aware of the importance of staying away from all psychiatric drugs. What a shame the majority of college children have been deluded by today’s psycho / pharmacutical industry and their advocates, the mainstream media due to all the “decreased stigma” BS lies.

      My therapist defamed me to my mother by claiming I was a “bad mom,” because her goal was covering up the child abuse for her pastor and friends. Truly, the psychiatric and psychological “professionals” are terrible at making predictions, and too many are staggeringly unethical.

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  2. “1 in 4 students reporting to campus counseling centers now are already on some kind of psychotropic medication.”

    I think I just got and instant depression. Wow… 25%? Wow…
    We are breeding a whole generation of seriously disabled people with serious emotional and personality issues. If you drug them for all their lives and tell them that every aspect of being an actual human is a symptom no wonder that everyone now is “mentally ill”.

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    • Fascinating that the number of kids taking antidepressants before admission has skyrocketed, and the number of kids experiencing anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. Wouldn’t you think that all of this “treatment” they are receiving would have REDUCED the rates of anxiety and depression? But no, it seems the more treatment is received, the more anxiety and depression is reported! I guess maybe Bob Whitaker has a point…

      —- Steve

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  3. Having worked at McGill Student Mental Health Service for 35 years and having been Director there for 15 years, I can say with reasonable authority that the information being promoted in this report is a large aspect of the problem.
    Firstly, they are talking about “anxiety” and “depression as diagnoses rather than as symptoms. Students may come in with various symptoms, but diagnoses are fairly irrelevant in this population, with students usually presenting with complex emotional issues. The idea of using primarily short-term modalities is bound to fail, as it leaves it almost impossible to address anything but symptoms if students are told that they will not necessarily have the time to explore real issues. Colleges are tending towards management of students rather than real treatment. Workshops and Group support may be useful, but do not replace expert therapy modalities. Sending students off campus for treatment, or insisting on medical leaves just puts students at higher risk.
    There is no truth that students are appearing more due to less stigma. There is also no truth to the often repeated statement that more students are arriving in universities requiring treatment due to the use of medication making it possible for students to achieve academic success.
    There are two major reasons for the increase in numbers of students coming for help. One reason is that parents and our society are treating children more like products than like people. There is less and less room for normal emotional expression and growth. Students begin feeling that achievement is all that counts in life, leading to both anxiety and depressed moods. These students arrive at university, start to experience falling grades and then fall apart.
    The other major reason , which ties into the first, is the overuse of diagnoses, medication, and simplistic symptom reduction treatments. These modalities all collude with the “product and achievement” model of life, and make student more fragile in the long run.
    There are good expert models of psychotherapy that work well in university students. These models quickly address real emotional needs, and provide safe emotional space for students. However many universities either are not aware of the efficiency of these models, or are turning to diagnoses, medication and symptom control techniques that tend to undermine real emotional progress.
    It is unfortunate, that so many universities simply don’t know what they are doing. I’ve seen these changes from being student oriented, to being bureaucratic oriented in many institutions, including McGill where labelling students is now mandatory for a student to be treated at the Mental Health Service

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      • Thanks Steve,

        Universities used to have more humanistic counselling services. With the increase in demand, college administrators have gotten involved, and are often dictating policy. Then one has service directors buying into the direction that the administrators are going. One also has the university lawyers getting involved and demanding on “risk management”.
        One of the problems with the older style counselling approach is that counsellors tended to follow a non-directive approach that didn’t address issues that quickly. This approach did not work when demand began increasing. This led to the adoption of more superficial approaches that also don’t tend to work, but allow the college to say it’s offering services. One often sees university counselling and mental health services having many “programs” like suicide watch programs, but no proper treatment services.
        There is no excuse for any college not to provide proper help. These days colleges are more interested in protecting themselves and appearing to care, than really providing good service.

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    • I generally agree but I don’t think that providing more extensive or “better” therapy, whatever that even means is a real issue. A real issue is deeply dysfunctional society, student debt, job insecurity, pressure to succeed at all costs, hyperindividualism, commercialization of universities etc. etc. Without addressing roots of the problem you can’t solve it.
      No amount of talk therapy will cure depression of someone who doesn’t know if he/she will have a home and be able to eat. No amount of therapy is going to cure anxiety for someone who has every reason to feel scared about the future. People are depressed and frightened because that’s the 100% reasonable and normal response to the world we live in.

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      • B,

        While I agree with many of your points and of the problems our dysfunctional society is creating, I don’t agree that proper therapy can’t help. Proper therapy has to address these issues so that the individual can recognize some of the sources of anxiety or depressed mood. It is much better to discuss with someone the societal issues that may be part of the root of the problem, so the person doesn’t end up blaming themselves, feeling they have a “mental illness”, or feeling alone with their painful feelings.
        This is one reason why I am so adamantly against superficial symptom based therapies. We need to address both the family and societal issues that leave a person feeling vulnerable. While we should be also working on general social dysfunction, in the meantime, we cannot abandon individuals in need and refuse to help them understand how our society has impacted on them.
        Unfortunately, this is what most college counselling and mental health services are doing these days: colluding with the dysfunction by blaming “mental illness”, and only attending to symptoms, and not treating the real problems.

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