Mental Illnesses Education and Awareness

This page will explain mental illnesses over the years, the most common illnesses found on college campuses, how mental illness can impact a college campus, and the consequenses when mental illnesses go untreated. In our findings, our methods explained in our full report, we found that in sample size of 36 people, 100% of the participants believe that mental health is important. With the same respondants, we found that though 49.2% have been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental illness (Figure1 1), 97.1% have known someone who has been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental illness(Figure 2).

(Figure 1)

(Figure 2)

This is relevent, as our sample space was mainly Virginia Tech students, and shows how our research and topic is relevent towards college students. To read more about our methods and findings, please feel free to refer to our report on the subject.

Download Our Full Report

A Brief History on Mental Illness

Properly treating mental illness has been a concern in the U.S. since the 1840s. The first mental health treatment facilities were developed in a 40-year time period after people lobbied for treatment for the mentally ill. These psychiatric hospitals were asylums, and stayed in use until the 1950s. The hospitals had become underfunded and understaffed, and the public pushed for community-based care to treat mental illnesses. Those treated in this manner had a better standard-of-living, while psychiatric hospitals were used only for those that posed a danger to those around them.

Mental illnesses are treated in a similar fashion today. However, there are still several barriers preventing the mentally ill from receiving proper treatment. Major issues include:

  • Limited Affordability
  • Lack of knowledge and education
  • Social Stigma

In certain communities, mental health treatment methods are more expensive than what the average family can afford. Poorer communities may have a low budget for mental health treatment resources, which make finding treatment more difficult.

Lack of knowledge and education on mental illnesses often prevent the mentally ill and those close to them from realizing when treatment is needed. Common issues in knowledge include:

  • Not knowing the symptoms
  • Not knowing where to get help
  • Not understanding how serious the issue is

Social stigma is a large barrier to mental health treatment. Mental health stigma consists of the mistreatment of those with mental illnesses. Those with mental illnesses can be discriminated against depending on their community. This makes simply living in that community difficult, as well as finding treatment for the mental illness. As of 2001, WHO as made advocating against this social stigma a top priority.

Mental Illness on College Campuses

According to Chadron State College , “75 percent of lifetime cases of mental health conditions begin by age 24. One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year. More than 11 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the past year and more than 10 percent reported being diagnosed or treated for depression.”

The majority of students attending universities across the country are adults ages 18-22, which according to these statistics, is exactly within the range of ages in which many individuals are diagnosed with some kind of mental illness. Mental Illnesses can affect someone’s self-esteem and self-image, their academic performance, and their relationships with friends and family.

For a lot of college students, going to college may be the first time they are living on their own. This, accompanied with the stress of college classes and the stress of trying to make new friends, can be a time filled with a lot of internal struggle. It is vital that college students have the access to the right resources they need to deal with this time full of new obstacles and changes.

Most Common Mental Illnesses

Mental illness is often seen as something important, but not usually treated as such. Many college students suffer from many different mental illnesses, though according to a report by Pedrelli, Nyer, Yeung, Zulauf, & Wilens, (2014), the most common ones found on campuses in the US are anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, OCD, and PTSD.

Since this information correlated with the results from our survey, which can be found in our full report, we will be focusing on these mental illnesses.


According to Google’s definition of anxiety, it is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” This is something that happens every day, and according to Harvard Health’s Francesca Coltrera, 2018, anxiety itself is not a problem as it helps secure our fight or flight reactions. The point that anxiety becomes a disorder is when a neurological wiring mishap occurs that causes the victim to overreact to simple everyday scenarios, and the person can no longer separate everyday scenarios and actual threats on their life.

According the Harvard Health, the different anxiety disorders can include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Panic Disorder

According to the Mayo Clinic these are some prevenative measures that could potentially help with anxiety:

  • Get help early
    • Some strains of anxiety can be harder to treat the longer you foro treatment
  • Stay active
    • Taking the time for activites that you enjoy with people you care about can help relieve your worries on day to day issues
  • Avoid drug and alcohol use
    • Anything that is altering to your mindstate or moods can potentially be dangerous for you and your anxiety and should be consulted with a doctor


According to Google’s definition of depression, it is “feelings of severe despondency and dejection.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is the “mood disorder that causes distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities.” Though feelings of sadness are natural and can come and go, depression is more attuned to the void of feeling that can come from self-doubt

There are many different types of depression, and as reported by the NIMH the two most common are:

  • Major Depression
    • Usually diagnosed is symptoms persist daily for at least a two week period that interfere with your work, sleep, study habits, etc.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder
    • This can occur if the symptoms occur for over a two year period.

The causes of depression are still in the research stage, though current studies from the NIMH do suggest that it could be “a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors” that can stimulate depression.

Depression is also known to be present with other serious diseases, such as diabetes, different types of cancer, heart disease, and others. Depression can be detrimental to these illnesses, as well as these illnesses can be detrimental to depression.

Getting professional help is crucial with depression.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivitiy Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

According to the NIMH, “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” The person who is affected by this disorder can be inattentive, as in may not be able to focus on a certain task for too long. They can be hyperactive, where the person must move constantly, such as fidgeting, tapping, or talking. The person can become hyperactive in inappropriate situations. The person can also become impulsive and take risky actions at inappropriate times as well.

There are many different treatments for ADD/ADHD, though these treatments should be talked through with a professional since each person may need a different treatment that would work best for them.

Eating Disorders

According to Google, the definition of an eating disorder is, “any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa).” According to the NIMH, eating disorders are serious disorders that can have fatal consequences.

The three most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge-Eating Disorder

Anorexia hold the highest mortality rate for mental illnesses.

The causes of these disorders are still not fully understood, though the NIHM are seeing connections to genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors to be involved in these disorders.

Being able to see the symptoms of these disorders can get you or a person you know with these disorders pointed towards the professional help needed

  • Anorexia Nervosa
    • Extreme restrictive eating and/or intensive exercise
    • Emaciation
    • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwilling to maintain a healthy weight
    • Intense fear of gaining weight
    • Distorted body image or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight
  • Bulimia Nervosa
    • Chronically inflamed throat
    • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
    • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth
    • Acid reflux disorder
    • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative overuse
    • Severe dehydration from purging
    • Electrolyte imbalance that could lead to stroke or heart attack
  • Binge-Eating Disorder
    • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
    • Eating fast during binge episodes
    • Eating when full or not hungry
    • Eating until uncomfortably full
    • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
    • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating
    • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

Seeking professional help with these disorders is crucial. Being able to see the symptoms of these disorders can get people with these disorders pointed towards the professional help they need.

Bipolar Disorder

According to Google, the definition of bipolar disorder is, “a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression.” According to the NIMH, it is a “brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”

There are many different types of bipolar disorder, though according to the NIMH, these are the four basic types:

  • Bipolar I Disorder
    • Manic episodes last at least seven days or are severe enough to require hospitalization with depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks
  • Bipolar II Disorder
    • Has a pattern of manic and depressive episodes, but the manic episodes are not as severe as Bipolar I.
  • Cyclothymic disorder
    • Many manic episodes that are not to the level of Bipolar I, but with the depressive episodes lasting at least two years.
  • Other or Unspecified Bipolar disorders
    • Not meeting the constraints of the above three types, but with manic/depressive episodes.

The causes of the bipolar disorder is still being researched, though scientists have seen connections between genetics, brain structure/functionality, and family history.

Treatments of this disorder should be discussed with a professional, as different cases could need a different approach.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

According to Google’s definition, obsessive-compulsive disorder is “a personality disorder characterized by excessive orderliness, perfectionism, attention to details, and a need for control in relating to others.” According to the NIMH, this disorder is a combination of obsessions, such as fear of contamination or having things in symmetrical/perfect order, and compulsions, such as excessive cleaning or compulsive counting.

Generally, a person with OCD spends at least 1 hour each day on these thoughts or behaviors and could develop a tic disorder.

Where most adults with OCD may see their actions have no logical reason, children and some adults may not understand the lack of logic in their actions.

If left untreated, OCD can affect every part of life.

Treatment should always be deferred to a professional in this field.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

According to Google, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is, “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world”.

According to the NIMH, PTSD can occur after a “shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Though it is completely natural to develop PTSD after a traumatic situation, as it is based on our fight or flight sense, it can cause people who suffer from this illness to feel stressed or scared even though there is no danger around them at that moment.

Even though it is common for people who have experienced a dangerous event to develop PTSD, not all people afflicted with PTSD have gone through a dangerous situation. A sudden, unexpected event could cause PTSD as well, such as the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one.

According to the NIMH, in order to be diagnosed with PTSD, these symptoms must be occurring for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
    • Flashbacks
    • Bad Dreams
    • Frightening thoughts
  • At least one avoidance symptom
    • Staying away from an event or place
    • Avoiding thoughts about the traumatic event
  • At least two stimulation and reactivity symptoms
    • Easily startled
    • Feeling tense
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Angry outbursts
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms.
    • Hard time recalling certain parts from the traumatic event
    • Negative thoughts of yourself or the world
    • Feelings of guilt or blame
    • Loss of interest in once-loved activities

To be properly diagnosed, a person who is experiencing any of these symptoms should seek out a professional who can help with treatments that are available.

Consequenses from Untreated Mental Illnesses

According to the Desert Hope American Addiction Centers Treatment Facility, “All mental health disorders have the potential for general negative effects occur if left untreated.” Mental illnesses that go untreated will become worse.

There are a lot of issues that come from those that do not get treatment for their mental illness(es). Problems like physical issues can arise as well as social issues. Some of the physical issues can come from stress, anxiety, nervousness, and depression. As an example, if someone were to stress out too much, they could tense up the muscles in their shoulders creating chronic shoulder pain. As for social issues, not only does the not treating the mental illness affect the person's social life, but the social life of those around them. Old relationships will be at risk as well as any chance to make new ones.

Consequences of non-treatment can also lead to episodes of violence. The Mental Illness Policy states that “there are approximately 1,000 homicides among the estimated 20,000 total homicides in the U.S. committed each year by people with untreated schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness.”

Other consequences of not getting treatment include: increased potential for incarceration, increased risk of accidents, substance abuse, and suicide. It is very important for one that has any form of mental illness to seek help as early as possible to prevent any of these listed issues and more from happening. Waiting too long to get treated can make the process of treatment difficult.