College life: it can be the best of times and the worst of times. For most young people going off to college it is a time of excitement. They envision living with some autonomy from their parents and anticipate meeting new people and experiencing new things. However, sometimes experience turns into too much experimentation and autonomy develops into homesickness and depression.
Campus life is a huge transition for young people and has its own set of health risks. Below are the top 5 health risks for college students:
1. Sleep deprivation. Studies find that up to 20% of college students suffer from sleeping disorders. It is common for college students to experience altered sleeping patterns when they leave home for the dorms. Their new sleeping environment is complicated by unusual schedules, which fluctuate due to class schedules, social activities and work. Many students stay up late to cram for exams or party excessively. Sleep deprivation leads to increased irritability, anxiety and even weight gain.
Solution: The average adult should get between 6-8 hours of sleep per night. Experts suggest that exercise can help establish healthy sleeping patterns. It is recommended that a student exercise at least three hours before bedtime, never just before bedtime. If you cannot get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis the next best thing is to schedule “catch-up” nights a few days a week. Students should make a concentrated effort to get a block of sleep on these “catch-up” nights. This practice will help prevent long-term health issues.
2. Eating disorders. Gaining the freshman 10 or 15 is bad enough, but it won’t kill you. Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa are a different matter. Both conditions arise out of a need for control and acceptance. It is hard to estimate how prevalent the condition is on college campuses, but 10-20% of diagnosed cases will die from complications relating to eating disorders. When the pressures of college life are too great some young woman (less of a problem for male students) focus on calories and their weight in an effort to block out other problems. Eating disorders may be used as a way to express control when the rest of life seems out of control. Girls suffering from bulimia will eat to avoid feeling overwhelmed, lonely, sad, or depressed. When they purge, whether by vomiting or compulsively exercising, it helps them feel like they are releasing all those feelings and again gaining a sense of control.
Solution: Eating disorders are a serious problem that will require professional help. Most college and university campuses have a health center, which can get a student connected to the appropriate health professionals. If you suspect your roommate or friend to be struggling with this issue talk with them and be supportive and encourage them to seek professional help. Eating disorders have complex psychological backgrounds probably beyond your ability to correct, so supporting them to seek professional help might save your friends life.
3. Excessive partying: A rite of passage or just stupid behavior? Drugs and alcohol have always been a part of college campuses. An alarming trend is the increase in alcohol poisoning and alcohol related deaths. Overindulgence is too acceptable among college co-eds and the “party hard” culture is leading many students into trouble. An additional trend of mixing hard liquor with energy drinks is enabling students to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and achieving dangerous blood alcohol levels. This drunken behavior is characterized with aggressive and risk taking stunts. Access to high proof alcohol, a culture of binge drinking and artificial stimulants is a recipe for disaster. Overindulgence and cross-consumption of alcohol and energy drinks is very risky behavior and can have fatal consequences.
Solution: Education on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption is a start for individual student behavior. The only real solution is for college students to change the culture that fall-down, aggressive drunken behavior is not acceptable. A line needs to be drawn between having a few beers in a social setting and getting s*#t-faced every weekend and ending up in de-tox or the Emergency Room.
4. Sex, sex and more sex. For many college co-eds sex is merely a numbers game and this game is played out in an alcohol-induced haze. But sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it has obvious physical consequences. Shockingly for this generation of “sex savvy” students the emotional fallout comes as a big surprise. When two people open their bodies to each other, they make themselves vulnerable in unexpected and unimaginable ways that can lead to an emotional hangover. Most college age students have been getting the “safe sex” talk since elementary school but with the introduction of alcohol or drugs it is lost in the heat of the moment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) estimate 19 million new STD infections each year. 50% of these are among young people 15-24 years of age. Most infections have no symptoms and often go undiagnosed and untreated. For women this can lead to severe health consequences, including sterility.
Solution: practice safe sex and don’t drink to the point that you engage in risky behavior. Limiting the influence of drugs and alcohol may prevent you from making unwise sex decisions and reduce risky behavior, which includes unprotected sex with unfamiliar partners. If you have acted rashly or done anything that puts you at risk of infection, get tested. Testing allows you to get any needed treatment and to prevent the spread of any possible non-symptomatic infections.
5. Emotional issues. The average college student’s life style is a ripe breeding ground for emotional triggers. Students experience many firsts when they enter college: new living arrangements, friends, roommates, food, managing money and a healthy dose of uncertainty. For most the transition is smooth, but for some they can lose their way and feel disoriented. A previously confident self-assured student can suddenly question who they are and agonize over simple decisions. This can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Many turn to drugs and alcohol to “numb the pain” and some become isolated and might have suicidal ideations. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds and accounts for 12% of all deaths annually. Click here to for the 10 signs of suicide behavior in young people.
Solution: If you are feeling not like your normal self or have signs of depression, seek help. If you are thinking of harming yourself, seek immediate help. Contact your campus-counseling center and set up an appointment. Campus health centers are staffed with people who are very familiar with the issues that are unique to students. If things get serious explore your colleges leave of absence policy to give yourself time to re-group and get mentally grounded.
Some say that your college years are the best of your life, but they can also be the most demanding. If you have an interesting college experience please share it with us in our comment section. Lets spread the word about healthy college living and help keep college a once in a lifetime experience for a lifetime of memories.