Alarming NIH Study Finds 50% of Young Adults Suffer Psychiatric Disorders

We’ve become accustomed to reading about campus alcohol and drug use. Yet, the rates of both substance use and non-substance use psychiatric disorders pointed out by a new study sponsored by NIH (National Institutes of Health), are alarming. That only about one-quarter of those with disorders in the study group had received treatment is further cause for concern. Some interesting comparisons were also found between these groups.

This research looked at sociodemographic factors and DSM-IV disorders, substance use and treatment requests among 5,000 college students and young adults who were not in college (Blanco, Okuda, Wright, et al 2008). All participants were between the ages of 19 and 25. The rate of all included disorders didn’t differ between the groups, but researchers found that the non-student group was significantly more likely to; have tried nicotine, be nicotine dependent, have bipolar disorder and have drug abuse disorders than the college group. Alcohol use disorders were higher among college students, but about equal when sociodemographic factors were adjusted for empirical comparison purposes.

Still, alcohol and drug use appeared to be the leading disorders among the college group (20%), followed by personality and paranoid disorders (18%), and bipolar disorder and depression (11%). The non-college group had a higher rate of personality disorders and just a one percent higher rate of bipolar disorder. Rates of anxiety were almost equal. Eating disorders were not included in the study (Brewington, 2008). The college student group was found to have received less treatment than the non-students for their disorders.

We don’t know if the rates of disorder found in the study represent a change from years past. This wasn’t explored in the study. It is clear, though, that the apparently high rate of psychiatric disorder among this age group hasn’t been well-recognized and that education, treatment access and, likely, stigma-reducing measures are needed to target this age-group.

© Copyright 2008 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW, therapist in Seattle, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Wendy


    December 16th, 2008 at 2:59 AM

    It kind of makes me wonder why the non-college kids had higher rate of these disorders? It’s sad to see such a young group of people with these disorders. We really need to see more treatments for these disorders for these kids.

  • Tarra


    December 16th, 2008 at 3:03 AM

    I think kids at this younger age face a lot of low self esteem and peer pressure when in college. Not to say this is how all college students are, but it seems there is more likely for these disorders to show up when you have the pressure of peers, homework, parties, etc.. Being an ex-college student myself, I have seen a lot of kids trying to stay up with the “Jones” or the popular crowd and how much work they put into keeping up with society

  • Steve


    December 16th, 2008 at 4:03 AM

    I currently work with college students at a local university. Is it true that this is the age group when many students begin to exhibit these symptoms?

  • Jamie


    December 17th, 2008 at 12:51 AM

    I am sure no one wants their friends to know when they are seeing a therapist. Especially if you are in college at the prime of your youth. Peer pressure makes people do crazy things like drinking regularly and sometimes drinking dangerously. A macho picture is painted if you are able to contain a lot of booze. Its important that parents stay in touch with their college going kids. Having a nosy parent helps keep trouble at bay sometimes.

  • Curtis


    December 17th, 2008 at 4:41 PM

    My brother began exhibiting signs of schizophrenia when he was around 17 or 18, and I think it is fairly common for this to be the time when these things emerge. maybe it has to do with hormones or other things that are going on externally at this stage in your life, or perhaps he was just a ticking time bomb all along. Needless to say he has undergone treatment and therapy since then but sadly he will never be the same guy that I looked up to and admired growing up.

  • Olivia


    December 18th, 2008 at 2:08 PM

    I have been very saddened today to learn of the suicide of an 18 year old friend of my son who was away at school for his first semester. he always seemed so bright and cheerful but was evidently having a terrible time at school and just could not handle the pressure. Our entire community is just devastated. compunded by the arrival of the holidays. My heart just breaks for this family. Depression and mental illnes can strike every age group and socioeconomic stratum and we have to be on the lookout for these things at all times.

  • Jan


    December 20th, 2008 at 3:57 PM

    As a hs counselor I have seen too many times where young adults with obvious psychiatric disorders fall through the cracks because there are people who think these kinds of behaviors are things that should be handled from within the home. It is all handled as a behavioral problem rather than a serious issue which needs early intervention and counseling. We all have to do a better job t recognizing the differences between the two and doing what needs to be done to get help for these teens with obvious care issues.

  • Sandra


    December 22nd, 2008 at 2:21 PM

    Why are so many parents ignoring the obvious? There are kids out there who desperately need help and many just choose to overlook this fact. Why is that?

  • Rene


    December 23rd, 2008 at 12:57 PM

    So often this is overlooked and thought of as a behavioral problem when it really is so much worse than that. I do not know what is going on in today’s society to make these things such an issue- when I was growing up we never heard of these kinds of things happening and today it is all over the enws. Where are we letting our kids down so much? We have to get a better grip on this issue before it continues to snowball out of control.

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