Dr Miriam Stoppard: PTSD is a big problem in teens – and universities need to act on it

By | May 21, 2019

To this day I remember the gut-wrenching anxiety I felt each morning as I entered school.

Was it fear of the ­unknown, fear of failure, fear of feeling like a fool, fear of bullying (I was plump) or some unknown indescribable dread?

Whatever it was, it dogged my school days, reaching crescendos at exam times, oral tests and interviews.

In the light of the latest stats it seems anxiety is an inescapable part of the teenage years for many, ­especially girls. But what is it about being a girl that makes us so ­vulnerable?

Of course, back then my kind of anxiety didn’t have a name. Now many teens are in the throes of PTSD. One in every 13 has post-traumatic stress disorder by the time they turn 18, according to a study.

The researchers from Kings College, London, used data on 2,232 children born in England and Wales in 1994 and 1995 and interviewed them at age 18.

Nearly a third had been traumatised at some point in their life. But PTSD in young teenagers can get worse later.

Only one in three teens with PTSD had spoken to a doctor about their mental health in the past year, and just one in five had seen a specialist.

Three-quarters had developed another mental health condition, half had self-harmed, and one in five had attempted suicide since the age of 12.

The number of students with mental health problems on arrival at ­university has surged too.

Between 2014-15 and 2017-18 there was a 73% rise in students admitting they were depressed or anxious before starting their courses.

In the 2014-15 academic year, 7,375 students said they were arriving in poor mental health, rising to 12,773 in 2017-18. At 23 universities, the figure more than doubled, it quadrupled at Cambridge University, and it
trebled at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire.

As a result, some universities ­implement “transition days” to ease vulnerable students into university life.

At Worcester University, wellbeing advisers will contact freshers to arrange a meeting before they start, usually in August or September.

Oxford University offers a day for students to learn about support services and how to manage the ­transition.

They’re given the option to settle into accommodation early before their college becomes busy with fellow students.

Despite universities spending millions more on mental health services, however, they can no longer cope with the demand.

Universities are no longer only seats of learning. They have pastoral ­responsibilities to ensure they can maximise students’ potential ­alongside their mental wellbeing.

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Dr Miriam

Mirror – Health