The Stress of Stopping Stress

Madison Holleran, 19 years old, was an Ivy League track star scouted out by University of Pennsylvania. Her love for track, and amazing grades in high school got her an impressive scholarship, allowing her family to send her off to UPenn. Her enthusiasm for running was intensified when she would put on her bright red and blue track suit to go to practice. Unfortunately, this passion she had from years past turned into a burden. She began to suffer while keeping her grades up with her scholarship required track practices. Unable to step away from track because of her scholarship, the stress of being forced to run combined with the stress she was undergoing due to her classes caused this teen freshman from New Jersey to take her own life from the top of a parking garage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 17, 2014.

Like Madison, many students suffer from the consequences of stress, and these consequences have become much more relevant in recent years. The rate of suicide has tripled since the 1950s, making it the second leading cause of death among college students, with almost 1,100 students committing suicide annually.

Suicide Tendancies . Courtesy of Relevant Magazine ISSUE 61: JAN/FEB 2013

These are times of need for students around the world, and action must be set in order to solve it. Universities and colleges offer assistance to students that seek it, but the real problem is that most students will not admit to themselves, or others, that they have a problem. Programs need to be initiated through schools that require students to go through anonymous health screenings in order to inform them if they suffer from stress or depression. This program will advise them to take the simple, yet crucial, actions required to getting help, allowing them to fully understand their own situation.

College Anxiety and Depression. Courtesy of Dr. Cullen Hardy

In a 2013 article, scientists discovered that 84–89% of parents support depression and suicide screening and education for their children. The government has stepped in as well by encouraging placement of mental health programs in schools. Some schools in the United States and United Kingdom have even purged the Advanced Placement system from their schools because of the stress put on students who feel the need to strive for perfection.

While well aware of this issue that could come out of putting this mandatory screening into place, Marney White informs her readers that if these screenings were to be annual, we could identify stress and depression at its earlier stages, making the depressed students least likely to act negatively to the screenings results. We just need to make sure that these screenings are every year, especially given to freshman who are undergoing this huge transition in their lives.

“The emotional health of incoming college freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades,” according to the annual American Freshman Survey. More than 30% of students say they have felt so depressed in the past year “that it was difficult to function,” according to the American College Health Association, and more than half have felt “overwhelming anxiety” (American Freshman Survey). Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college age students.” said News Reporter, Katie Baker.

Screenings such as these, have shown to be deeply effective in the past. Universities, such as the University of Delaware, have mandatory screenings for classes such as alcohol awareness and sexual assault. If these are acceptable forms of outreach to help students, why not help them from a disease that at least 80% of them suffer from? By not reaching out like this, universities are just hiding the problem out of sight.

In the United States we also have mandatory medical screenings much like these for the general public. Screening for diabetes is a very common example. If the test results come back saying that they are at risk of a serious illness, we take the required steps to help them. We also require alcohol abuse counseling when a student is sent to the Emergency Room for an alcohol related offense. But yet, it is very uncommon to question the ethics of medical screenings

A common misbelief is that students will go to gain help by themselves if they need it so we do not need to push and pressure them. Over 80% of individuals affected by depression do not seek, or receive, help for it . This is the reason we need to make this screening mandatory. We need to show students that what they are suffering from is common and that we can help them. Many people believe that depression is not a curable illness but there are many different approaches to helping those suffering from depression.

An issue that needs to be addressed if this screening is put into place is that students across the country are being forced to take a medical leave after seeing the schools therapy and being diagnosed with depression. This seems like a harmless approach at first, but the reality of the matter is that Universities make it near impossible for the student to come back to the school after their leave is over. This is all because Universities are afraid that students will commit suicide on their campus and appress their reputation.

Suicide & Depression By The Numbers. Courtesy of Kelsey Phillips

Students have become afraid of getting help from the university in fear of being forced to take an indefinite medical leave. Universities need to end this oppression and allow students to attend the university once they have bettered their mental state.

Ignoring this problem may not only cause students to struggle with depression their whole lives, but it could cause them to drop out of college and make other serious life threatening mistakes. If we can catch their subthreshold symptoms through the use of these annual screenings, we could be saving students life-changing opportunities, careers, or even their lives.

Annual mandatory mental health screenings need to be placed in Universities to assure their students that help is not out of reach and that it is okay to seek it. Universities need to encourage students and help them with their mental illness through a medical leave if that is the necessary action, not ban the students from attending their school. Universities need to make some serious changes in their efforts to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression before any alterations will be made in the direction it is headed.