PTSD, anxiety on the rise among students

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American students appear to be more stressed than ever, with a new report finding a sharp increase in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder (ASD) on campuses across the country.

In a “national sample of American college students, we found a notable increase in the prevalence of PTSD and ASD,” a team led by Yusan Zhai of the University of Alabama at Birmingham concluded.

Rates of PTSD rose 4.1 percentage points between 2017 and 2022, and diagnoses of stress disorders rose 0.5 percentage points, the data showed.

Their findings were published in the news JAMA network opened.

As Zhai’s group explained, any number of events—campus shootings, sexual assault, physical violence, and natural disasters, for example—can trigger PTSD or ASD. PTSD can lead to more persistent symptoms, while the impact of ASD can be transient, ranging from a few days to a month.

In their study, the Birmingham researchers focused on the period 2017 to 2022, “a period characterized by escalated societal stressors and global health crises,” including, of course, the pandemic.

They looked at data from the ongoing Healthy Minds study, which tracks the mental health of more than 392,000 people attending 332 different colleges and universities in the United States. About 58% of the students were female.

The data showed that during the study period, 19,349 (4.9%) of students were diagnosed with PTSD, while 1,814 (0.5%) were diagnosed with ASD.

“We observed upward trends in the prevalence of PTSD and ASD between 2017 and 2022,” Zhai and colleagues wrote.

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PTSD rates increased from 3.4% of participants in 2017-2018 to 7.5% in 2021-2022, and acute stress disorders increased from 0.2% to 0.7% over the same period.

The research was not intended to discover the main causes of these trends. However, they “highlight escalating mental health challenges among college students, which is consistent with recent research reporting an increase in psychiatric diagnoses,” the researchers said.

Still, they speculated that pandemic-related losses (e.g., deaths of loved ones), campus shootings, and racial trauma on and off campus could be contributing factors.

Whatever the reasons, the findings “suggest the need for targeted, trauma-informed prevention and intervention strategies by mental health professionals and policymakers to support the affected student population,” Zhai and colleagues wrote.

More information:
There is more to be found about stress among students and how to deal with it Harvard Health.

Yusen Zhai et al, Trends in Diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder in US College Students, 2017-2022, JAMA network opened (2024). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.13874

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Quote: PTSD, anxiety on the rise among college students (2024, May 30) retrieved May 31, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-05-ptsd-anxiety-college-students.html

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