The Link Between Learning Environment and Mental Health

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Have you ever tried to study while someone is playing loud music in another room? Or attempted to write a paper when a pet or family member has just died? It’s not even easy to concentrate when you’re feeling sick, so imagine how hard it is to learn and do well in academic studies when you have a mental illness.

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Over 61.5 million American adults are affected by mental illness in a given year, and those illnesses can intensify when a person’s learning environment is less than ideal.

First, let’s look at who is suffering from mental illness. In lifetime cases of mental illness conditions, 75% of people experience symptoms before the age of 24—which most likely means these symptoms come out when a student is in high school, college, or earlier and their academic performance can be seriously influenced by the whatever symptoms are presenting themselves. With that in mind, 64% of college students with mental health issues drop out and 70% of students surveyed have said that mental health concerns had a negative effect on their academic performance. So what exactly are the elements that can affect those already experiencing mental illness?

As you might guess, the economy of the region where a student lives has some influence, and moving to a less poor area has a positive impact. Low-income housing can also lead to a deterioration in mental health, as it may enhance a person’s feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. Women are also concerned with the safety of their environment—they associate fear of attack with places where someone can easily hide, but the presence of groups reduces fear and anxiety.

You might not guess that floor level has something to do with a person’s mental health, but women in colleges living above the third floor have a greater incidence of depression than those living on lower floors. And the more people a student is living around—say, in a high-density dorm building—the more likely they are to develop higher levels of emotional illnesses, hostility, and neuroses than those living with fewer peers. The more people a student lives with, the more noise that student has to ignore in order to reduce stress and anxiety and get work done.

Now that you know what is affecting students’ mental illnesses, let’s discuss what illnesses are most prevalent in college students. Of a survey of 765 college students with mental illness by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in 2011, 27% were suffering for depression and 24% from bipolar disorder. Twelve percent of what respondents said they were suffering from was comprised of dysthymia (mild but chronic form of depression), borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and autism spectrum disorder—a pretty wide variety of mental illnesses that you can imagine would certainly affect a student’s performance, stress levels, and ability to function socially.

What can students with mental illness, and those around them, do to help? Many campus schools provide on-campus counseling, either in the one-on-one or group setting. Group therapy can prevent a student from feeling “alone” in their suffering. If medication is needed for treatment, psychiatrists are authorized to see patients and prescribe appropriate medication for the illness that’s diagnosed. Additionally, taking part in activities and hobbies can help students relieve stress, create meaningful social relationships, and avoid feeling isolated and disconnected from the world.

If you’re intrigued by the subject of how one’s learning environment affects their well-being, maybe you should consider a pursuing a degree in psychology or counseling psychology. These exciting majors may develop into career paths that offer degree holders the opportunity to counsel and help those whose lives are seriously affected by mental illness.

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