Tackling anxiety on campus with creativity: Can a therapy chicken help?

Jun 25, 2015 by

You know what you see on college campuses these days? Stately buildings. Backpacks. iPhones. And bazillions of exposed nerve endings.

This is one fraught generation. One can say that higher learning has always been an anxiety-generating ordeal. Plato was no doubt running out for two-for-one specials on mead to calm down while outlining the Republic. But there’s something else going on right now. These kids have cortisol shooting out of their pores and it’s becoming a crisis.

In May, the findings of a national study [PDF] of more than 100,000 students conducted by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State hit national news cycles. The news that raised eyebrows in the mental health community was that anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern. The list of “top-most concerns” had these as the most cited:

Anxiety 19.6%
Depression 15.6%
Relationship Problem 9.2%
Stress 5.9%
Academic Performance 4.7%

The survey results weren’t a huge surprise to mental health practitioners at the University of Minnesota. They had been looking at their own data from a survey it commissioned in 2013 [PDF] that showed much of the same conclusions, only with depression on top, barely, and they knew anxiety was on the upswing:

Mental Health Condition Percent Who Report Being Diagnosed
Depression 19.3
Anxiety 18.2
Panic Attacks 6.9
Attention Deficit Disorder 5.0
Seasonal Affective Disorder 4.0

“We’ve been seeing more anxiety from students in the last four or five years,” says ThanhVan Vu, a chemical health counselor at the U’s Boynton Health Service. “Millennials have a lot of pressure on them.”

But do they? Haven’t college students always felt like Atlas with the weight of their futures on their shoulders? And aren’t these kids a bit coddled with their endless gold stars and resistance to criticism?

Not really, says Vu, who gives a specific reason students these days have every right to feel commensurately more anxiety than the rest of us: They owe more money.

“I always ask students I see about what’s causing them anxiety and I often hear that it is about the financial aspect of college,” she says.

These certainly aren’t the days when if you wanted to study abroad you took out a Stafford loan and paid it back in a few years. Students these days are paying the vig on some serious coin. College graduates this year are leaving school as the most indebted class ever, with student-loan debt averaging $35,000, according to an analysis of government data by Edvisors, a group of websites about planning and paying for college. That’s more than twice the amount borrowers had to pay back two decades earlier.

So cut the kids some slack. Their future may in fact be in (paying off their) plastics, and that would stress anyone out.

Source: Tackling anxiety on campus with creativity: Can a therapy chicken help? | MinnPost

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