Mental Health Monday: Increased Anxiety In Students

What to look for, when to seek help, and what schools can do to support their students’ mental health.

Anxiety is a common and sometimes helpful tool that can help students stay motivated, prepared, and alert. For example, when students are preparing to take tests, a certain level of anxiety can be helpful in order to get tasks accomplished. However, when that feeling of anxiety becomes debilitating and stops them from accomplishing their tasks, generalized anxiety could be to blame. It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased uncertainty, loneliness, stress, and worsening of generalized anxiety for the student population.    

Per the CDC, in 2019 (prior to the pandemic) 9.5%, 3.4%, and 2.7% of adults have experienced mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of anxiety in the past 2 weeks, respectively. Most adults who experienced mild, moderate, or severe symptoms were between the ages of 18-29.  Women were more likely to experience mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of anxiety than men.   

The Problem: 

Once anxiety becomes overwhelming and unmanageable it is referred to as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD can be described as a feeling of excessive worry that is associated with restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, or difficulty concentrating.  

Student Barriers: 

We already know that students are facing worsening anxiety due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, students often delay seeking care, citing lack of access to care, the stigma associated with mental health conditions, and the lack of understanding of the condition. Students often self-medicate with increased alcohol consumption, drug use, or self-isolation which can only worsen GAD. 

For Students: 

Seek help when you need it. Some signs that you may benefit from support are when: 

  • You are experiencing feelings of hopelessness.
  • Your anxiety is causing you to feel physically ill. 
  • Your anxiety is impacting your grades.
  • You are sleeping more than usual and feel a lack of energy to get your day started.
  • You have a decreased appetite.

For Schools: 

  • Train your staff to recognize when students may be displaying signs of worsening anxiety.
  • Improve access to care for students.
  • Increase focus on student wellbeing.