Central New York, Education, Health

How Difficult is it for Students with Anxiety to Deal with College?

Click the play button above to learn how difficult college can be for students who deal with anxiety.

Audio Transcript: Chadwick_Anxiety_Script

By Max Chadwick SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)- Anxiety causes a person to have stress out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to set aside a worry and restlessness. 40 million Americans suffer from it, including 25% of college students according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

One of those 25% is Sarah Butts, a sophomore at Syracuse University. One symptom of her anxiety is panic attacks, which can be a truly terrifying experience.

“I truly feel like I’m dying,” Butts said. “I feel like I might get a heart attack. I lay on the floor and nobody can touch me because I feel like my skin is on fire. It can happen anywhere at any time. Even if I know I’m in a safe space where no harm can come to me, I still am convinced that I’ll die.”

Dr. Afton Kapuscinski, the director of Syracuse University’s Psychological Services Center, explains some of the biggest problems facing college students that may contribute to their anxiety.

College students are at a unique stage of life where they’re trying to figure out who they are, their identity, whether that be culturally or in terms of their future goals,” Kapuscinski said. “They’re also trying to navigate adult friendships  and romantic relationships, many times for the first time. So I think all of that are reasons why college life can be tough for some students.”

One factor that Butts struggles with is being away from home. She lives right outside of Boston, which is over five hours away from SU’s campus.

“Being away from home is really tough,” Butts said. “I am very close with my family so being so far away from them is definitely something I struggle with daily. They were my support system back home, and now that I’m on my own, I need to find my own new version of a support system at college.”

That support system has come in the form of counseling centers for many students, something Kapuscinski says has seen its importance spike dramatically in recent years.

Mental health services on campus is now the dining services or gyms of the past,” Kapuscinski said. “It’s considered a vital service that has to be there and I think that’s a good thing. But part of that need is the severity of the problems that students are coming to college with.”

While counseling centers are indeed sprouting everywhere, Butts feels like the accessibility could definitely be improved.

I know friends both at Syracuse University and other places who have complained about the fact that it is so hard to get an appointment with a counselor unless you say you are suicidal or have attempted suicide,” Butts said. “If you just want to talk to someone it’s just so hard to get that appointment because the need far outweighs the resources that they have.”

One other thing that Butts would like to improve is to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, something she feels ostracizes her from her classmates.

I don’t tell people I go to therapy every single week, I just say I have a doctor’s appointment,” Butts said. “I’m just so afraid if I tell people I’m going to therapy every week they’re going to see me differently and I don’t want that. I would love to reduce that stigma in college because it’s something that allows me to function well in college and be here. And I deserve to be here even though I need this support.” 

Although Butts suffers from anxiety, she doesn’t let that keep her from doing what she loves. She holds leadership positions at WJPZ 89.1FM Radio and her sorority, Alpha Xi.