NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Almost half of college-age Americans have suffered from some type of mental health problem in the past year, but few seek treatment, a survey finds.
The survey, of more than 5,000 U.S. adults ages 19 to 25, found that mental health disorders were common among both college students and those not in college. But neither group was likely to have had the problem addressed; overall, one-quarter had sought treatment for their mental health disorder in the previous year.
"These findings underscore the importance of treatment and prevention interventions among college-aged individuals," the researchers report in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Early treatment of disorders like depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol dependence can cut the risk that the problem will persist past young adulthood, note the researchers, led by Dr. Carlos Blanco of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University.
The researchers based their findings on a large government health survey conducted in 2001-2002. Participants answered standard questions used to diagnose substance abuse and other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder.
Focusing on the 5,092 respondents between the ages of the 19 and 25, Blanco's team found that roughly 46 percent of college students and 48 percent of non-collegians had suffered from a mental health disorder in the past year.
Alcohol abuse was slightly more common among college students, while their non-student peers were at greater risk of drug abuse. The prevalence of anxiety disorders and mood disorders, which include depression and bipolar disorder, was similar in each group.
Nearly 12 percent of non-students had a mood disorder, as did almost 11 percent of students. The rate of anxiety disorders was also around 12 percent in each group.
Treatment rates were low in both groups, but college students were only about half as likely to have sought help for their alcohol or drug problem.
All of this points to a need for better awareness and treatment, according to Blanco and his colleagues.
"As these young people represent our nation's future," they write, "urgent action is needed to increase detection and treatment of psychiatric disorders among college students and their non-college- attending peers."
SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, December 2008.