Anxiety on the rise in college students: an interview with Katharine Brooks, Ed.D

By Nikki Moylan

College students today are under immense amounts of pressure, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the American College Health Association which found that almost 16% of those interviewed had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety.

So many things are common factors that contribute to anxiety, like being able to handle classes, meeting new friends, and also trying to figure out your place in the world.

This week I interviewed Katharine Brooks, who has worked over 30 years with college students in various roles ranging from professor, counselor, career counselor and adviser for students with disabilities. She is also the author of recently revised “You Majored in What? Designing Your Path From College To Career.” The book is more of a self-help guide for students in the liberal arts majors who don’t always have a concrete path.

She says writing the book is ironic because “It’s supposed to ease the fear that can come with the job search.”

Brooks also says “College students are going through a lot of changes.  There is the stress of getting into college, then the stress of leaving home (and friends and family) to attend a new school, the stress of the difficult college-level courses, the desire to “fit in” — and the fear that you won’t. For some students, the transition is easy and smooth; for others, the path has lots of challenges.  And then, of course, there is the stress of what to do after graduation.”

Anxiety is both an internal and external issue, as it can be in your genetic makeup or personality and also outside factors.

Social media also plays a role in adding to anxiety and stress. Sites like Instagram and Facebook can fuel insecurities and make you compare your life to your friends.

What mental disorders can seriously affect those at work or in college?

“It’s not uncommon for anxiety to join up with depression.  The two emotions often feed on each other, which can make it particularly hard for students to keep with coursework, or for adults to succeed at work.  If you’re feeling all charged up but at the same time can’t focus or get going, chances are you’re dealing with both depression and anxiety.  It’s like trying to drive a revving car engine when you’re in park,” Brooks says.

Who should people talk to if they need help in their workplace?

Brooks advises workers to try the EAP program managed by the Human Resources department. Programs offered by insurance programs should also be checked out. Other ways to find help is to read, keeping a journal, or finding ways to stay active.

How anxiety can make a person feel.


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  1. I can relate to this article very well. As a transitioning student into college, anxiety is very real. As with anything in life, new things can be scary, especially with predisposed disorders. Not everybody is made for the cookie cutter system, and college can be reflected differently by anybody you ask. My questions are, if we spend all the money to go to college, shouldn’t we have a say in our learning experience? What works best, and suits our needs? I’m sure that could be worked into budgets.

  2. This article holds a statistic that I am able to observe as a present undergraduate student. Anxiety towards friendships and classes have been a constant with my own friends and classmates, as well impacting myself personally. It’s intimidating to come into a new school whether fresh out of a private or public high school college is an entirely different playing field. Friendships require more effort due to the fact that sometimes a student’s friends may not share the same classes, having both people work around various schedules. Additionally, these schedules can include a variety of activities not limited to classes but work and social life activities. It’s wonderful that this issue is being acknowledged, students prepared for coping with this anxiety can prepare themselves to put in the extra effort and take some time to say, “It’s okay, I’m going to be okay,” while going into their freshman year.

    My questions to further research this topic would be focusing on the causes of anxiety in prospective high school students and how to better prepare them for the stresses they may face in a university. I’m wondering also what would help students that are feeling the stress of college, and focusing on expanding some self-care methods.

  3. It is incredible the lack of empathy, interest and, consequently, research by the pressures that the students suffer during all this transition.

    A few years ago, as part of a university project, I conducted a survey among my fellow students about their general college experience, socialization difficulties, homesickness, and even comparability of grades and how they affected them in this new stage .

    The results were alarmingly sad, with quite a few markers of depression, however, in Latino culture (I am from Mexico) there is no real concern for mental health and well-being, it all boils down to productivity and the answer was “I’m just a little Pressed / nervous about the exams ” We have teenagers and young adults committing suicide because they failed to enter a certain university or not get certain grades. It’s absolutely crazy.

    What kind of measures can we take, a course or a new class directly, to prepare these young people to better manage the pressures during this transition?

  4. It’s good to know that anxiety amongst college students is a common phenomenon, not only because we now can act on this and try to make the situation better for students, but also because it’s a comforting feeling to know that you are not alone and the only one who is dealing with this.

    I was wondering while reading this if this was truly just a more recent thing, or if other, oder generations had to deal with this, too.
    Maybe they had, and depression and anxiety are just not that big of a taboo to talk about anymore? Maybe we now have more research that can help to explain to people why they feel the way they feel?
    Or maybe these circumstances are unique to millennials. If that is the case, I would not only name social media as a cause but also the economy and the fact that todays youth is expected to find jobs with tools that are very out of date and do not fit the jobmarket we have today.

  5. I believe that this an important statement that needs to be put out there. Students should not feel alone, and their anxieties should be very much validated, by not only their peers but also psychologists and experts. That should be the first step in tackling the issue of anxiety in college students – being aware that anxiety not only exists, but is very much widespread among that population.

    The next steps would be identifying what exactly are the most popular sources of anxiety and then taking the appropriate remedies. Of course, this is much easier said than done – everybody is different, everybody experiences things differently, and everybody exists in a different environment. However, if a large percentage in a group of people all experience anxiety, there would certainly have to be a few common issues?

    Another important note are for colleges themselves should acknowledge this fact and learn more so that they can help their students. It seems plainly unjust for students to fork out thousands in student loans to experience a college education yet be completely miserable the entire time. Yes, they get a degree, but at what cost? We exist in such a transitionary stage, that we should be enriched in more aspects, not just simply academically.

  6. Since I just finished my freshman year at college, I can easily relate to this article. When I entered college, my first priority was to find friends and try to be more outgoing, something I struggled with throughout high school. For me, the coursework was not difficult, nor was the adjustment to living on my own, I just feared being lonely.
    The best way I found to deal with my anxiety and depression was to be active constantly. Do not give yourself a chance to go back into a slump where you hide in your room, take naps throughout the day, and turn down plans with your friends. In addition to this, talk to someone. It does not have to be a therapist or a college counselor. Find a friend you can trust to listen to you and it alleviates some of the pressure and weight off of yourself.
    Anxiety and depression are disorders that colleges know that occur and thereby create outlets and organizations that bring awareness to the issue and places to go for help. However, the issue is not discussed. It is something that everyone acknowledges is a problem, but no one is open about it. In order to fix this issue, we must first change how we approach it.

  7. While I can relate to this article, I can’t help wishing it was longer. The author only asked 2 questions of the psychologist?!! For such a complex issue that has so many different facets from home environment, to personality, and onto socio-economic concerns, to have only two questions that address none of these issues seems like a waste of a potentially good article. I would have liked to have seen more questions asked, particularly in how students can get help on their campuses (such as at their campus health clinic or through calling hotlines), or some suggested ways of easing their stresses (yoga, meditation, etc).

    On another issue, I would suggest only using acronyms (such as EAP) should only be done after it’s been previously defined. Especially for those individuals who may not be coming from a psychological background, who are looking for ways to cope, having each term defined is a necessity.

  8. This is a very relatable article for me, being a college student who have experienced the transition. This transition is often a big step for many, having to leave the comfort of their home and to face different social situations from previously (e.g. social situations that include drinking, clubbing, and more people), as well as the stress from academia. I was just wondering if there were perhaps any studies done on the different types of colleges across different countries? College in different countries may provide different environments. Across different colleges as well, the standard of academia might differ and may or may not induce different levels of stress. How about students who go to a different country for college (i myself is one of them actually)? I personally felt that perhaps I suffered a greater degree of fear and anxiety than the locals simply because it is a whole different environment and culture than I was used to.

    I think its great that the article mentioned the comorbidity of anxiety with depression, because it reflects the reality that many students may face. However, it feels that there are much more explanation and details that can be given, such as more information on the different type of causes of anxiety (e.g. the behavioural or conditioning accounts), or how we can better equip ourselves with knowledge to overcome anxiety.

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