War deaths in Afghanistan number almost 2,100 young Americans lost since the U.S. entered that conflict in 2003. But most people are unaware that an even greater loss of young lives occurs every year on this nation's college campuses.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in college in this country. According to the latest statistics from the CDC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4,300 young Americans took their own lives in 2009. And experts report that the leading cause of death for those under 25 -- accidents, including accidental overdoses and drinking and driving deaths -- has strong ties to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
There's no question that college students, especially today, face an enormous amount of stress and anxiety. On top of the pressure of classes and grades, there is rising tuition and housing costs, crippling student loans, and the economic problems that have made finding jobs challenging for even top graduates.
A 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association found that more than 37 percent of students seeking help are suffering from severe psychological problems, a doubling of the percentage of students who exhibited such problems in 2000. Researchers and counselors report that young adults and college-aged students have the highest rate of diagnosable mental illness, yet they are also the group least likely to seek help.
This problem has been a major focus for Kevin P. Kuntz, M.Ed., a mental health counselor who will be a featured presenter this week at the American Counseling Association's national conference in Cincinnati. His presentation, "Support for Suicide Awareness: De-stigmatizing Mental Health on College Campuses," will be one of the educational programs provided for the more than 3,100 counseling professionals who will be in attendance. This session will both illuminate current problems being faced and provide an overview of groups working to provide resources, support and hope to college-aged students.
Kuntz, and numerous other experts in the counseling profession, has found that there is such a negative stigma attached to young people seeking counseling for their problems that most refuse to reach out even when they are becoming overwhelmed and desperate. Kuntz has reported that nearly half of all college students are so depressed at some point that they have trouble functioning.
Several organizations are now working to provide needed help to college students facing anxiety and depression issues. Among the most prominent are Active Minds, The Jed Foundation and the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.
As Kuntz points out in his presentation, there is a vital need for an increase in such resources on campuses across the country. It is important that seeking help for better mental health is seen as a positive behavior, not a badge of shame.