Who are my students? This is a valid question that I believe anyone who works with a student population ought to try to answer when determining how best to serve those students. Recent literature presents information signifying that college students are arriving on college campuses with pill bottles and prescription medications, indicating that the current student population is one that struggles with mental health and wellness issues more than previous generations have.
A quick Google search for “college students and prescription meds” returns results describing the ever-growing problem of drug use and abuse within the college student population. While this is obviously a pressing issue, I might also suggest that colleges need to seek ways to address the ever-growing population of students who truly need medication to function appropriately. Furthermore, the overwhelming number of college students who struggle with mental health issues indicates that this is not just an issue for college mental professionals, but also something that all college faculty and staff ought to be aware of.
Williams (2010) discusses sitting down with a [fictional] student, saying “And there I sit, with an 18-yr old student who barely recognizes her own emotions…” Williams describes a situation that may seem all too familiar to many professional staff on college campuses. Many faculty and staff form close relationships with their students, assuming a mentorship role. This relationship means that students often turn to them when struggling with issues beyond the academic sphere. Even as I recall my own college experience, I can remember struggling to identify what I was feeling, and why I was feeling that way. I found myself wandering into a trusted professor’s office, or talking with a resident assistant, as I struggled to work through whatever difficult situation was occurring. More frequently though, I buried painful emotions in an effort to feel okay, and later dealt with the repercussions as I formed new relationships and encountered uncomfortable situations.
Alishio and Hershs (2005) state that “Cultural trends have created a popular belief that dysphoric feelings are symptoms to be eliminated, just as facial idiosyncrasies and bodily imperfections are flaws to be removed.” In a culture that continues to perpetuate perfectionism as an ideal state of being, students often feel the pressure to be more, do more, all while giving the appearance that they have it all together. I can personally attest to this, as my own depression is at its worst when I feel like I don’t measure up to a set of expectations (whether those expectations are my own, or expectations others may have unintentionally communicated). When reality does not reflect how a student really feels, dysphoria results, and consequently many students turn to medication as a form of “quick relief.”
Alishio and Hershs (2005) raise the question “Does quick relief enable young people to stay psychologically immature by helping them avoid the depth of emotional and psychological struggle that may be necessary for growth?” This is an important question to ask, considering the point Williams (2010) makes in stating “I don’t know how to distinguish, with certainty, those students who are truly in need of medication to function appropriately, and those who are seeking relief from the typical emotional distress of this incredibly challenging, transitional, soul-searching time in their lives.” This only reinforces my previous statement that this is not just an issue for college mental professionals, but also something that all college faculty and staff ought to be aware of. For who among us wouldn’t opt to forgo emotional distress if the option was available? In understanding mental health and wellness within the college student population, there must also be an awareness of the presence and use of medication within our students lives.