A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center.
Following circulation of the Healthy Minds Study in spring of 2018, this is the percentage of Colorado College students who screened positive for anxiety. Individual assessments were based on the General Anxiety Disorder-7 scale, a set of questions that asks participants to rate the frequency of emotions such as worry, restlessness, or genuine fear. Responses were used to unofficially diagnose those who presented with anxiety symptoms. Symptoms could fall anywhere on a spectrum from “mild” to “severe,” the latter category capturing eight percent of CC respondents.
As is often the case for mental health, anxiety presents differently across various demographics. Twenty-four percent of female identifying students screened positively while the same was true for only 13 percent of male identifying students. At 47 percent, the rate of anxiety among Native student responses topped all other racial categories. Hispanic/Latinx students presented at the next highest frequency, with 33 percent screening positive, and anxiety was identified among 29 percent of Black students, 20 percent of Asians students, and 18 percent of white students. While a clear pattern emerges out of these numbers, it is important to keep in mind that these are descriptive statistics and certain groups — white students and female-identifying students — are dramatically overrepresented. Therefore, not all data may be statistically significant.
The sheer prevalence of anxiety on this campus may be further compounded by the rates of alcohol consumption. All forms of anxiety — including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia — can reinforce or be reinforced by substance abuse. Research indicates that not only is there correlation between the two, but potential causation. This relationship has been demonstrated through studies that show anxiety predating substance issues, as well as those that show a positive correlation between interventions to decrease anxiety on later incidences of substance abuse.
At the time the Healthy Minds Study was administered, 25 percent of CC students reported three or more episodes of binge drinking in the past two weeks. For women, a “binge” is qualified by the consumption of four or more drinks in a row. For men the number of drinks increases to five, and for non-binary genders the number is either four or five.
Whether through correlation or causation, the rate of students who display symptoms of anxiety is eerily similar to that of those who drink excessively. While we are lacking data that may show what statistical overlap exists between the two, high rates these indicate a problem on both ends. Substances can serve an escape for those struggling with anxiety, provide a means of self-medication, or simply result through impulsive tendencies that underlie both disorders. Understanding these motivations can help us identify appropriate resources.
Mental health exists on a spectrum; each individual position on that spectrum is constantly shifting. Regardless of official diagnosis, mental health is relevant to everyone. Whether anxiety-related, substance-induced, or both, recognizing “struggling” symptoms in yourself and those around you will prevent decline into “unwell.”