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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15069/mental-illnesses-among-college-students/

Mental Illnesses Among College Students

December 20, 2010 by

There has been a bit of discussion of this piece in the New York Times about mental health issues on college campuses (HT: Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba). The article reports on a greater preponderance of mental illness among students. Here are a few hypotheses that are open to testing:

1) The populations are changing over time. Lower infant mortality implies that a lot of people who wouldn’t have made it to their first birthday (or out of childhood) are now college students. I’m not a demographer, but I would expect that increasing wealth and advances in medical technology would increase survival probabilities in such a way as to increase the relative size of the population with mental disorders.

2) The timing of measurement and diagnosis matters, and we have improved/more frequent diagnosis combined with very vivid examples. Exams, dissertation defenses, etc. are extremely traumatic, and extreme trauma causes symptoms of severe depression/anxiety.

3) Short-run economic conditions play a role. The unemployment rate in December 2000 was about 4%. Today, it hovers near 10%. I would also be interested in seeing how this differs across areas of concentration. At the margin and holding everything else equal, I would expect to see worsening economic conditions lead to decreased mental health among those pursuing less-employable lines of study. In short, the increases in depression and anxiety are likely to be larger among theater majors than among engineering majors.

3a) How does the mental health of the marginal college student compare to the mental health of the marginal person who didn’t go to college, and what is the causal role of education subsidies?

4) We consume more psychiatric services as our incomes increase, and we are much wealthier than we were ten years ago, especially on hard-to-measure margins like access to information. We have the luxury of thinking about and addressing depression, anxiety, etc. where we didn’t before.

5) As the article mentions, better living through chemistry allows a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to handle college to enroll, even if for only a short period of time. My guess is that there are students at elite institutions who wouldn’t be there if medication hadn’t helped them navigate high school. Time (and data) will tell.

{ 39 comments }

DayOwl December 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I would add that there seems to be an inclination to define more behaviors as “conditions to be treated” than there was a generation ago.

As with all NYT “health” articles, I’m left wondering what exactly it is they’re selling.

George December 20, 2010 at 3:18 pm

In their K – 12 school years they are spoiled and coddled. Teachers won’t give them an “F” because parents would raise a ruckus and threaten to sue, they receive so called social promotions to avoid hurting their self-esteem when they should be held back. Now that they’re in college and have to take responsibility for the first time in their lives they can’t handle it.

“Mental illness” can also be another scapegoat. Some people blame capitalism for their lack of success, others blame politicians or corporations and this is just another way for some to rationalize their inability to compete in the world.

The way I see it is this. If you’re not doing well the reason for it and the solution to it is in the mirror. It’s not because of some politician or corporation, it’s your fault and you’re to blame. Grow up and take responsibility for yourself and quit blaming others for your failings and shortcomings, and that is just what they are, your failings and your shortcomings.

Jim December 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Well, I got plenty of F’s in good ol’ high school, and I can assure you it did not hurt my self-esteem, mainly because it occurred to me that I didn’t respect teachers enough to view them as my personal source of self-worth. Whether public schools coddle children or bring down the hammer and demand faux excellence – the fundamental problem remains: they don’t know what to teach. Only individuals, ie. the kids themselves, can ultimately decide what to learn. Only the owner of the brain can decide how to use it or improve it. Education just can’t be imposed.

So, I don’t believe that kids are waiting for hard-won A’s and B’s versus the easy victories. The whole game is meaningless in the first place, and it does indeed dawn on you one day that: your grades are irrelevant, you don’t know how to live outside of your parents house, you have all the will and desire in the world and no idea what to do with it in society.

Randall Dalton December 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm

We must have been separated at birth…our minds think alike.

Charkles December 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Right on dOOd! Let us natural elites show those godless statist pussies that they may take away our ozone destroying fridges, but they’ll never take away our contrarian spirits!

J. Murray December 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm

6) Many “disorders” are classified as such because society has become less capable of tolerating what is normally a positive evolutionary trait. See ADHD for example. It was called a disorder because parents and the public school system didn’t want to be inconvenienced by a child that, in pre-tool days, would have been more likely to survive a predator than the sedentary ones.

Briggs Armstrong December 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I’m not entirely sure that ADHD-PH (primarily hyperactive) would necessarily be an evolutionary advantage. It would seem that these early humans would run the very real risk of expending too many calories and would have a harder time obtaining sufficient nourishment to maintain an unnecessarily active lifestyle. It is also possible that said people would, due to their higher activity level, find themselves in contact with more natural risks (venomous snakes or predators).

Even today, people with either ADHD-PH or ADHD-PI (primarily inattentive) are statistically more likely to have accidents.

Dave Albin December 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

That we even have something called ADHD-PH indicates that public education can’t deal with it – sadly, that’s really all it means. Public education is designed for students in the middle, and it also spends a ton on those at the “bottom” – while spending essentially nothing on those at the “top”, the “gifted”, “different” kids who are greatly held back by public school. It is easier for public schools to label and drug children than it is to adapt to the needs of the varied students.

J. Murray December 21, 2010 at 6:26 am

I was one of them. I was in the California public school system for most of elementary school. I was sent to one of those GATE schools in third grade for testing because my teacher thought I was too bright for school. I was also classified with ADHD. I recall the school very well, we were given a series of tests that lasted all day. NOT a good idea for kids like me. I always did well right at the beginning and then lost interest and started to zone out. An hour long math test is not a good thing. I had half the test done in about 5 minutes before my mind wandered. I came back with mostly failing scores because they assumed I couldn’t finish the tests in the allotted time, not that I lost interest becuase you don’t throw large volumes of the same thing at people like me. At the end of the day, I was classified as average but lazy and dumped back into the regular school system.

I tend to pick up academic concepts very quickly and lose interest in any repetition. Public school is built on repetition. Because of this teaching style, I never came out much more than a middling student. It wasn’t until upper level college courses did I manage to shine, especially in classes where attendance wasn’t mandatory. I learn best at my own pace, which is a lot of information being thrown at me quickly.

I bet there are a ton of students in our system today being ruined like this. The school system moves at a snail’s pace to them and when something they don’t know does finally show up, they stopped paying attention long ago to learn it.

frank December 21, 2010 at 6:53 am

J Murray – do you have no shame? Since Andras called you out on the drugs thread a week or two ago I’ve been watching and I have a question – is there ANY subject on which you won’t pontificate and use as an excuse to tell us all how great you are? I think not. Maybe you should start a blog.

J. Murray December 21, 2010 at 7:47 am

I just admitted I wasn’t great. I don’t function well in our current society.

mpolzkill February 21, 2011 at 11:30 am
Dagnytg December 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

J. Murray,

When I went to high school, they started GATE testing. At the time, the school wanted me to be tested. My parents gave me the choice.

My reasoning went like this:

If I pass, I will be labeled. If I fail, I’ll be labeled. If I choose not to take it, no one knows. (In other words, I am an unknown quantity with potential.) I chose not to take the test.

I’ve often reflected whether that decision was a wise one. After reading your comment, I realize I made the right choice… thanks:)

J. Murray December 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm

You definitely did. I wish I had the necessary insight to make such a decision, but being in 3rd grade, you really don’t have that kind of maturity.

guard December 22, 2010 at 10:27 am

Yes, school wasn’t so good for me either. Most of what I learned I did on my own.
We home schooled a daughter. She expressed no interest in reading and we didn’t push her. When she was 10 years old, she still couldn’t read. (gasp! child abuse!)

Then she became interested in reading, and withing 6 months was reading at second year high school level. Now she has a BS in biology.

Bogart December 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

The funniest thing is that DEPRESSION is a natural reaction to this situation where the government sponsored educational establishment has flimflammed these students into taking on huge debts for zero advantage over less formally educated folks.

Of course life is more stressful for college graduates who were promised a bunch of crap. Not only is the US Gov trying have every person wondering around with a useless college degree, the USG is allowing people to pile on collegiate debts. So the students are stuck with completing college and having zero experience, or not completing college and having to immediately pay off student loans.

Then there are millions of students who should not have gone to college and have wasted valuable time that could have been spent producing real goods and services.

Add this into the fact that the job market is getting worse and worse for college graduates and you have real depression.

Phinn December 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

DEPRESSION is a natural reaction to this situation where the government sponsored educational establishment has flimflammed these students into taking on huge debts for zero advantage over less formally educated folks

At college age, it’s problem enough, but look at what they do to fidgety elementary students. It’s pretty creepy when government’s schools promote the drugging of kids whose reaction to government-designed schooling is that it sucks.

It has a Soviet-psychiatry feel to it, where disagreeing with the high ideals of communism was considered a mental disorder.

Jim December 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I tend to agree with John Gatto’s assertion that government schools are best at churning out “psychic invalids” who are incompetent to their own lives and to others in society. When they enter college, they realize that they don’t know anything, can’t do anything, and are now 20 years old. They’ve been dumped out into the world (sorta) and most don’t know how to cope. Most freshmen have a little bit of a freak out of inadequacy and it takes years to adapt and catch up. Most don’t ever catch up. Then you endure the same thing again in three more years: A. Get a job. B. Grad school. That is depressing.

Dave M December 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm

The psychiatric sciences are pretty much the domain of quacks so I am not surprised they are inventing more mental problems that they must conquer.

Anonymous December 20, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Why are “mental illnesses” increasing among college students? The answer is obvious:

These are made up “diseases” that they were diagnosed with in elementary school. The government’s elementary schools, with the assistance of quacks called psychiatrists, have invented a bunch of phony “diseases” in recent years and Big Pharma has been prescribing drugs to the kids in order to turn them into mindless zombies.

This is the reality in today’s government schools and has been the case for the last generation, which is why we are now seeing an increase in “mental illness” among college students (I predict that the rates of “mental illness” among college students will eventually plateau and will thereafter remain relatively constant).

MizzouLibertarian December 20, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Exactly. Most, if not all, of what is qualified today as a “mental illness” is not a disease in the traditional, biological sense. They are abnormal behaviors that psychiatrists have tried to explain away by blaming the non-existent “disease.” Thomas Szasz is probably the authority on this subject matter – http://www.szasz.com/

Dan December 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I think there is a lot of truth in your post, as well as some of the others. I see a striking parallel in our situation with the so-called “mental illnesses” of anyone who disagreed with soviet policy. Folks over there were declared to have “mental illnesses” if they disagreed with the Marxist rubbish they were taught.

The field of psychology (and government shrinks especially) need to provide evidence that these new “mental illnesses” actually exist and aren’t just people responding to certain environmental stimuli (i.e. mind numbing government schools). We can’t take these “experts” seriously anymore.

Agora December 20, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Ain’t nothing a three foot bong wouldn’t cure.

Dave Albin December 20, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Don’t tell the Feds!!!!!!!!!!

Tyrone Dell December 21, 2010 at 3:16 am

Aside from this being a joke, I really feel like this is the best answer here.

Agora December 20, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Back in the 80′s one could not help but get stoned after being assigned Neo-Marxist garbage, such the likes of Immanuel Wallterstein. or some undecipherable poorly written article from the Kinko’s pack. I would gladly exchange my U of Wisconsin Pol Sci degree for a half gig flash drive of free books from the Mises Institute.

Phinn December 21, 2010 at 11:05 am

Ain’t it the truth??!!?!

When I think about how my life would be different if I had been given that Misesian flash drive when I was 16 or 17, instead of finding this stuff when I was in my thirties … well, let’s say it would be radically different.

J. Murray December 21, 2010 at 11:30 am

You can’t worry about the past. It’s never too late to go with the Misean tradition.

Phinn December 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Yes, it’s true.

Unfortunately, my state-sponsored creditors worry about the past quite a bit, more specifically the part where they lent me vast gobs of state-sponsored Federal Reserve notes money to buy a price-inflated house and pay price-inflated tuition, and the part where they now claim the right to punish me rather severely for failing to repay it.

I would suggest to these cronies that if they want something from me, they should either learn to cope with disappointment, or alternatively they can run crying for a bailout to the same government that gave them the price-inflating privileges and sponsorship in the first place, but so far they don’t agree with me.

Sean December 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I agree that many students have been cottled from grades k-12 then in college teachers are not afriad to fail students and combine current economic turbulence is leading to more pressure being applied to college students it is no suprise that mental disorders in college students have increased.

Jim December 20, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Your statement, as well as the one above, rests on the idea that state operated schools can do the job of education in the first place. If a government monopoly on schooling cannot produce education, does it matter if schools grade easy or just fail all the bastards? What is the difference?

Does anybody really believe, on Mises.org, that a student’s success or failure can be based on the arbitrary decisions of a government expert? It’s quite a leap of faith, don’t you think?

Bogart December 20, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Sean:
It is worse than just being let in that you are not God’s gift to mankind. It is the realization that you are going deep into debt trying to get a piece of paper that does not have all of the impact your previous elders said it would.

Drew December 21, 2010 at 2:34 am

As a current college student I would say that there is a much larger population of students entering college with mental illnesses probably than prior generations. The advancements in the medical diagnostics is to blame for that. Also students are almost trying to get diagnosed with certain illnesses to get drugs that will help their grades i.e. ADD so they can take adderall to study longer,better, and get longer amounts of time on exams, which would skew the data.
In response to #3- the current economic times definitely plays a role in the stress level of students because every exam or paper becomes that much more important. I disagree that in the short run engineer majors will have better mental health than theatre majors. Jobs are hard to come by no matter what field you are trying to enter. I will graduate in the spring with the best major, econ, and I feel the same stress and pressures as any other major.
3a– the stress in high school and college is much the same. High school your goal is to get into the best college. College your goal is to get the best (or a) job. People that don’t go to college miss that additional 4 or more years of stress lowering their stress or anxiety level. Lowering the margin of mental issues for the non college gower. In the long run they may feel those symptoms when they can not get the job they really want because of their lack of a degree.

S December 21, 2010 at 4:51 am

This is related to one of the themes of a website I’m working on.

I talk a little about it here…http://www.smart-tutor-tips.com/

Matt December 21, 2010 at 10:06 am

Fluorinated water has been shown to increase ADD, lower IQ, and promote lethargic response. I don’t trust it, and college students today have had it all their lives.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2886269353175462948#

G8R HED December 21, 2010 at 10:35 am

Type II food allergies (IgG) also contribute significantly or can be the root cause of many physical and mental problems. It remains undiagnosed because the simplicity of it transfers the control of health from the medical monopoly to the individual.
Perpetual dependency and addiction is more profitable than a cure.

Charkles December 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Great, now mental illness is a nefarious government conspiracy concocted for the purpose maintaining the sheeple-quo. If only Mises could now see the shit posted under his name.

Tyrone Dell December 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I know what you mean. Sometimes the issues on here get way too ridiculous (my eggs aren’t fried enough?? Damn you government!! Every problem of mine would just vanish into thin air if it weren’t for those pesky congressmen!). I’m just trying to take the good with the bad around here, and it helps to remember this is just the blog and at least not a Daily Article.

P.S. – I currently attend Stony Brook, the school that the NYTimes article focuses on, and I can tell you that it really is depressing and I have had some mild depression due to academic stress and workload. Thank god it’s a state school so I can complain about it amirite? ;p

Dave M December 21, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Drapetomania and dysaethesia aethiopica are two “mental disorders” the quacks would like to forget about as well.

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