The number of 18- to 26-year-old students who report suffering from anxiety disorder has doubled since 2008, possibly due to rising financial stress and increased time spent on digital devices, a study has found. The percentage of all students nationally who reported being diagnosed with or treated for anxiety disorder climbed from 10 per cent in 2008 to 20 per cent in 2018, according to researchers from University of California - Berkeley in the US.
Rates of anxiety disorder grew at higher rates for students who identified as transgender, Latinx and black, and they increased the closer all students got to graduation."It is what I am calling a 'new epidemic,' and that the data supports using that term, on college campuses. We need a heightened national awareness of this very serious epidemic," said Richard Scheffler, a professor at UC Berkeley.
The team examined nine years of data from nationwide examinations of student well-being. The group also conducted 45-minute interviews with 30 UC Berkeley students who identified as suffering from anxiety.
While Scheffler said he cannot firmly establish the causes for the rise in anxiety, he found strong correlations between anxiety disorder and financial instability, the amount of leisure time spent on digital devices and the level of education attained by a young adult's mother.
"The correlations and the data are pretty powerful," he said. Young adults who come from families that have trouble paying bills are 2.7 times more likely to have anxiety than students who come from families that have no difficulty paying bills, researchers said.
Those who spend more than 20 hours of leisure time per week on digital devices were 53 per cent more likely to have anxiety than young adults who spend fewer than five hours a week on digital devices. Young adults with mothers who had at least an undergraduate degree had a 45 per cent greater chance of having anxiety than young adults whose mothers had less than a college degree.
Scheffler also found that anxiety is associated with other serious problems beyond the overwhelming feelings of worry or nervousness associated with the disorder.
A student with anxiety is 3.2 times more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, the findings show. Other negative outcomes correlated with anxiety included increased probability of having been sexually assaulted or attempting suicide. All factors being equal, Scheffler also found that between 2008 and 2014, young adults with anxiety earned 11 per cent less than those without anxiety.