Many people have felt a degree of anxiety or depression in their lifetime, but the real problem begins when these feelings begin to interfere with everyday tasks and activities. This can especially happen in college students who are stressed and tired. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 75 percent of people with an anxiety disorder will experience symptoms before the age of 22. The average age for the onset of a mental illness such as anxiety or depression is 18 to 24 years of age.
According to Grand Forks clinical social worker, Jasmyne Ramirez, anxiety has both a physical and biological cause.
“Anxiety occurs when the body has a physical reaction in response to a stimulus, much like when you feel pain when you are injured,” said Ramirez. “With anxiety, there is no physical cause for the physical reaction.”
Depression often accompanies anxiety. According to Harvard Health Publications, depression occurs when there is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be brought on by genetic components, certain medications, or stressful life events. In Ramirez’s experience, many patients come in with symptoms of anxiety as well as depression.
“There is almost always some sort of combination,” Ramirez said. “Adolescents and young adults will come in with complaints of overwhelming anxiety, and I often see that they have depression as well but it might not be diagnosed as clinical depression.”
Laura Walker, a sophomore at the University of North Dakota, was diagnosed with generalized anxiety just two weeks before her freshman year of college began.
“The summer before college I was especially nervous, but I’ve always felt like a nervous person,” Walker said. “I was constantly organizing and planning and it got to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night. I had so much to do, at least in my head.”
Walker recalls seeing her doctor for a routine check up before moving to Grand Forks for college.
“I mentioned that I felt on edge and nervous a lot, especially about moving and starting school,” Walker said. “She asked me if this was new or if it had been going on for a while so I finally told someone for the first time that it had been going on for years.”
Walker had previous knowledge of mental illness from a high school class, so she said she was not too surprised when her doctor confirmed by belief, even though she thought she was making it up.
Her doctor made the diagnosis of generalized anxiety and prescribed her Zoloft, an antidepressant that helps with symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
UND student Tim Schafer was diagnosed with depression eight years ago, and he was diagnosed with anxiety six years ago. He said that he decided to do research online, and he later took a psychology class in school, and that was how he first self-diagnosed himself before seeing a professional.
Many people experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression usually do not seek medical help right away according to Ramirez. For Schafer, it was several years before he got help.
“It was more of like a ‘I need to do this or bad things will happen,’ situation after a few years” he said.
Schafer admits he had recurring suicidal thoughts and needed to seek help. He said he didn’t think his feelings were a big deal until he contemplated suicide multiple times and decided it was time to seek help.
Ramirez said that it can often be six months to a year or longer before a person realizes they could benefit from seeing someone.
“I see with my younger kiddos that it’s usually a parent or teacher who notices something isn’t right,” Ramirez said. “During late adolescence and early adulthood, people tend to seek out medical advice once they have been educated on mental health and notice they fit criteria.”
Erin Johnson is also among the UND students with anxiety. She said that she has been very nervous for as long as she can remember.
She began going to therapy in seventh grade. For her first year of college she attended Minnesota State University – Moorhead and was able to see a therapist on campus at the student health office. Since being at UND, she has not been to therapy, but has benefited from talking to close friends about her anxiety.
“Therapy really helped me,” Johnson said. “Right away it helped to understand that I don’t always have to feel that way and that there are ways to calm yourself in situations that I normally wouldn’t put myself in because it is triggering.”
She said she believes many people could benefit from therapy even without having a diagnosis because it is helpful in getting through daily life and tough situations even if there is not an underlying illness.
Ramirez is a firm believer in the power of therapy and medication. She said without help, being in a constant state of anxiety can have profound effects on the heart, and depression can cause fatigue which can lead to many other poor decisions.
“Mental health needs to be taken seriously and be treated in order to be happy and productive,” Ramirez said.
Medication can have different affects on different people. While it can help, there are other things to consider and talk to a doctor about.
There can be side effects to taking or stopping a prescription medication for anxiety or depression according to Ramirez. A doctor should always be consulted before starting or stopping any medication.
“A lot of people feel like a robot on meds but for me it’s opposite. When I’m off my meds I feel I can’t emote or show emotion properly,” Schafer said.
People react in different ways when going off a prescription medication. Unlike Schafer, Walker said that she feels helpless without taking her prescriptions.
“I have tried being off of them for several days before but I get really fidgety and sad. I also throw up because my body isn’t used to not having them anymore,” she said.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, seeking help is one of the first steps. Call to make an appointment at the University Counseling Center at 701.777.2127 or Student Health can be reached at 701.777.4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org as some of the options on campus to get answers and help.