Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Who Doesn't Have Anxiety?

I've written before (here, here, here, and here) about the new ring for which to reach in educational accommodations, a diagnosis (real or imagined) of anxiety.  And now The New York Times is on the case:
Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.

The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling...

Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.

“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Dr. Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”

And we're right back to what I've so often said about K-12, that we enable their disability by accommodating it rather than teaching students how to function despite their disability.  Now back to the Times story:
Anxiety-ridden students list schoolwork as their chief stressor. U.C.F.’s center and after-hours hotline are busiest when midterm and final exams loom. That’s when the center runs what has become its most popular event: “Paws-a-tively Stress Free.”

The other afternoon, just before finals week, students, tired and apprehensive, trickled into the center. The majority were not clients.

At a tent outside, their greeter was the center’s mascot and irresistible magnet: a 14-pound Havanese, a certified therapy dog whom many clients ask to hold during individual sessions, stroking his silky white coat to alleviate anxiety.

“Bodhi!” they called, as he trotted over, welcoming them to his turf with a friendly sniff.

For the next two hours, some 75 students visited the center, sitting on floors for a heavy petting session with therapy dogs.

They laughed at the dogs’ antics and rubbed their bellies. They remarked on how nice it was to get a study break.

On the way out, the students were handed a smoothie and a “stress kit,” which included a mandala, crayons, markers, stress balls and “Smarties” candy.
Yes, of course that sounds like great fun.  Doesn't the so-called stress kit, though, seem more than a bit infantile for people who are supposed to be adults? 

It's not that I'm unfeeling, it's that I want to teach students how to function as adults in the world.  I experience plenty of stress and anxiety at times but I don't resort to crayons and Smarties, nor do I see how those would resolve whatever situation I find myself in unless I'm anxious about not being able to color while on a sugar high!

We can shield people from the real world, or even pretend that it doesn't exist, but we're not doing anyone any favors when we do that.


Ellen K said...

I wonder if anyone has bothered to link anxiety to caffeine intake. When I was growing up, coffee was for adults. I didn't start drinking coffee myself until my oldest son developed the world's longest case of colic. Now I see parents buying their kids multiple "energy" drinks for school. I see kids after school consuming huge coffee drinks, often with additional espresso added in. Kids as young as elementary school are consuming caffeine at higher rates. That has to mess with their central nervous system and could be a causative factor in the numbers of college kids with anxiety.

KauaiMark said...

In related news:
Stress induced "adrenaline" is now a banned performance enhancing drug.

-- Mark ;)

maxutils said...

I'll be the first to agree that this is completely over diagnosed, just like ADD … but as one who has suffered from real anxiety attacks, I can tell you: they are serious, and they are not fixed by classroom accommodations. Because typically, if you have one, you become totally paralyzed (mentally) and incapable of doing virtually anything -- so, you're not going to be going to class and asking for more time on a test.

PeggyU said...

I'm depressed because I think I may be suffering from anxiety ...

Ellen K said...

I've experienced an anxiety attack. Strangely it was seeing my former middle school math teacher-a horrible and curmudgeonly man who ruined math for me for years. I was an adult-a teacher in fact myself. I saw him at the grocery store. I literally could not breathe or move. Terrible feeling. Much of what parents and general practitioners are labeling as "anxiety" is apprehension-usually fear of failure or lack of preparation. True anxiety is much much worse.