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Study: 25 % of Missouri college students have suicidal thoughts, drastic increase in stress levels

According to the Missouri Assessment of College Health Behavior, 37% of students reported their...
According to the Missouri Assessment of College Health Behavior, 37% of students reported their stress is overwhelming or unbearable in 2021. That’s an increase from 24% in 2020.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 7:51 PM CDT|Updated: May. 27, 2022 at 8:48 AM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A new study finds the mental health of college students is on the decline. Plus, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

The report found college students are suffering inordinate amounts of anxiety and stress, driving some to even consider taking their own lives.

Caitlin Ham said she feels it every day.

“I’m actually planning to go to law school in January,” said Ham.

Caitlin is a graduate student at UMKC. She just finished her Master’s studies in criminology. Between school and life, her plate is full.

“Yeah, I think definitely the pressure to be able to juggle a lot of things,” said Caitlin. “I’ve worked full time all of college just to be able to pay my bills and live on my own.”

She’s not alone, the pressure is taking a toll on college students. According to the Missouri Assessment of College Health Behavior, 37% of students reported their stress is overwhelming or unbearable in 2021. That’s an increase from 24% in 2020.

The 2021 Missouri Assessment of College Health Behaviors study surveyed between 8,000 and 11,000 students from 24 different college campuses in Missouri. One in four students (25%) said they had thought about suicide in the past year and 1.6 % even reported they had attempted suicide.

Students also cited issues with major depression (35%), panic attacks (30%), and chronic sleep problems (25%). However, what they struggled with the most was anxiety (64%).

“Going to college has always been a difficult experience,” said Dr. Greg Nawalanic.

Nawalanic is a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Kansas Health System. He said college in itself is already challenging, but even more so with the pandemic.

“It removed a lot of the things that help people really value their college years’ experience, which is the social connections,” said Dr. Nawalanic. “How they got to come out of their shell, find other people with like interests.”

He said those social lessons suffered even more under the curtain of technology, especially social media.

“It’s really easy to click a button and follow or say, ‘Yeah, I like that,’” said Nawalanic. “But, it’s hard to have conversations,”

Nawalanic said now, as we slowly emerge out of the pandemic, it’s time to face the fears and resume those conversations – no matter how daunting.

“Some of the advice I give - I try not to give it but it works - is fake it till you make it,” said Nawalinic. “Imagine yourself as a character in the film of your life. How would you like to see yourself on the screen?

He said it’s also about taking small steps, so you give yourself grace to string together a little progress every day.

“And, don’t be afraid to get help,” said Nawalanic. “Getting better starts with saying, ‘I’m not OK,’ and that ‘I might need some help.’”

Caitlin said life can definitely be demanding, but it’s about finding balance and setting boundaries.

“I think just learning how to tell people, ‘Hey, it’s after business hours. I’m sorry. Like, we can talk about it first thing tomorrow?’ I think that’s really important,” said Ham.

There is help available for those who need it. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK OR 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. You can also chat live with a counselor by visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org.