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Anxiety rates climb among students at UWRF, nationally

April 10, 2017

Anxiety rates among students at UW-River Falls have been on the rise in recent years, keeping the university on par with national trends.

In 2015, 43 percent of UWRF males and 63 percent of UWRF females polled said that they had experienced overwhelming anxiety in the past year, according to the most recent American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment (NCHA). This is up from 31 percent of men and 53 percent of women in 2009.

Diagnosis and treatment for anxiety are also on the rise at UWRF, with 11 percent of men and 22 percent of women polled saying they had been diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the past year. The 2015 rates were approximately double 2009’s rates, up from 6 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Alice Reilly-Myklebust, director of Student Health and Counseling Services at UWRF, said that UWRF tends to match national averages, and anxiety in students is no exception. She said that trying to determine why students are more anxious is a complicated issue, as it is likely due to many things, including being overscheduled, being constantly connected to social media and not getting enough sleep.

“There are a lot of expectations, family expectations, societal expectations about what we should all be doing,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “It’s complicated, and I would guess that anybody could speculate on some of the different reasons why [anxiety rates are climbing].”

For the students who utilized UWRF’s counseling services in the 2015-2016 academic year, anxiety was the No. 1 concern, overtaking depression for the first time.

National results show similar trends. Just over 50 percent of the students who used their campus counseling services reported anxiety as a concern, according to a recently published survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD). A total of 529 campuses were involved in the study, including UWRF.

This rise in anxiety rates is matched by a rise in the number of students utilizing campus counseling services for mental health reasons in general, Reilly-Myklebust said.

“There are more students coming to us with more mental health issues, more significant mental health issues, and more students have been in treatment or on medication prior to coming to college,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

With a higher percentage of the student body seeking counseling, 7 percent in the 2014-2015 academic year, Student Health and Counseling Services has had to work to keep up. A 13 percent increase to the office’s segregated fee for the 2017-2018 academic year was approved by the Student Senate in February, and Reilly-Myklebust said part of this increase will go toward hiring a new counselor to keep up with counseling demand.

As this group of increasingly-anxious students prepares to enter the workforce post-graduation, Reilly-Myklebust said that long-term negative effects of anxiety can follow and impact one’s overall wellness.

“If you’re really anxious, so you’re not getting sleep, you may not be getting physical activity,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “You may not be connecting with people because you’re so anxious, so you’ve lost that social connectedness. It sort of depends on how your anxiety impacts you.”

Reilly-Myklebust said that taking the initiative to make a counseling intake appointment to see a counselor is a brave step. For students who might not be comfortable with that yet, there are a number of other options, like group and art therapy. Events like Pet Therapy on the first Friday of every month and the pre-finals week De-Stress Fest are held on campus, and spaces for relaxation and meditation can also be found in Hagestad Hall.

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