What do you need to know?
It’s that time of year when college starts. For the freshmen, this is exciting because it’s usually your first chance at living on your own and a sense of taking charge of your life. The experience should definitely be enjoyed! However, there are health risk that come with college that you should be aware of before going. What are these risks? What can you do to prevent them? If needed, how do you resolve them?
When you’re at college, there are many tests and most of them aren’t in the classroom. Stress is a top factor at college because of the mental pressures from deciding on which classes, student loans/financial aid applications, securing housing and finding a job. Other factors that are part of the college experience include social and sexual pressures, temptation of alcohol/drugs, unhealthy eating habits, not getting enough sleep and actual illness. All of these impacts your health and when even one area is out of balance, it can affect all the others. Unfortunately, health often isn’t a topic that is on your mind when you head off to college, but it should be. The good news is that there is a simple fix and that’s awareness.
All college students need to know their health histories, especially if they have any chronic illnesses or a complex medical history. If you don’t, it could result in a serious problem. One way to help you remember is to create a health information card that has on it your allergies, medical conditions, medications (including doses and directions), your family health information, dates of your most recent immunizations and emergency contact information. If you do take medications, make sure you have enough refills before the school year starts. Along with the health information card, you should have with you your health insurance card. Often times, many students forget to keep it with them, which means they can’t get treatment when they need it. It can be helpful to identify someone, such as a roommate or a friend, who is local and can go with you to the hospital or doctor in case of emergency. Make sure your parents know who your resident adviser is, how to contact the campus police and the number of the local emergency room. In addition, find out the college’s parental notification policy. Since most college students are over the age of 18, they won’t notify parents that something is wrong, unless the student gives them permission.
There is a considerable amount of mental pressure in college, which can increase your risk of anxiety and depression. While anxiety is a normal reaction to stress that helps you to deal with various situation, such as studying hard for an exam, you shouldn’t feel it all the time. If you feel overwhelmed by your worries or want to avoid everyday activities due to your anxiety, you should seek help in dealing with these concerns. There is no question that we all have bad days, but depression is much more than that. It’s feeling hopeless, losing interest in things that you once enjoyed, having trouble sleeping, feeling tired all the time, changes in your appetite and uncontrollable emotions. Regrettably, depression often goes unrecognized by college students, which means it’s unreported and untreated. Thankfully, there is starting to be less stigma around depression, so more students are becoming more comfortable speaking about it. Also, there are better medications to treat it, which enables individuals to stay in college. In order to not feel so isolated and alone, seek support from your parents, friends, educators and counselors. Most colleges as part of their campus’s student health services offer therapy and other services, which is usually free to students. A key way to combat anxiety and depression is to develop a network of friends, stay active and find ways to reduce stress, like meditation classes or yoga.
Since most college activities deal with groups of people in very close settings, it’s not uncommon for illnesses to spread quickly. Since some of these illnesses can be prevented by vaccines, it’s important to make sure that you’re up to date on your vaccinations before going to college because the protection from some vaccines can wear off over time. You should consider getting vaccinated against meningitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, flu and any others your doctor recommends. A huge component of remaining healthy is practicing good hygiene techniques, especially regular hand washing. If soap and water isn’t available, use hand sanitizer. One illness that is common among college students and very serious is meningitis. This disease infects the protective tissue surrounding your spinal cord and brain (meninges). It can be caused by a virus or bacteria, but the bacterial form is of particular concern because of its quick onset. If not treated quickly, it can lead to serious complications, like brain damage and physical disability. Meningitis outbreaks are most common in the spring and winter. The good news is that there is a vaccine for bacterial meningitis. This is usually given around the age of 11 or 12, but you can still receive it up to the age of 23. Besides meningitis, there are other illness you should be concerned about. The norovirus and other foodborne viruses come from contaminated food and water and from touching contaminated surfaces. Since sharing bathrooms and food sources is a common occurrence at college, outbreaks often spread rapidly. Another common college illness is mononucleosis. It’s caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and results in a severe sore throat, fever and exhaustion. The infections tend to be more severe and prolonged in college students. An illness that can resemble mononucleosis is strep infections. They are usually caused by the bacteria group A streptococcus, which means they respond well to antibiotics. Typically, strep season follows the cold and flu season.
Many college students believe their peers are extremely sexually active, which adds to the pressure to conform to this idea. However, several studies have found that college students are not any more promiscuous during their first year of college, than the years prior. Despite this misconception, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) do pose a risk for college students. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost half of all STIs diagnosed each year occur in people ages 15 to 24. While some STIs can be treated with medications, others can’t and can have lasting effects. So, if you’re sexually active, you should be tested for STIs annually. Most colleges offer access to testing, treatment and prevention options. Unfortunately, a good portion of students are not taking advantage of these services. Another important consideration when talking about safe sex is preventing sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), over 11% of all college students will suffer rape or sexual assault using force, incapacitation or violence. Sexual violence is any sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given. It’s a significant problem across the United States, but particularly on college campuses. While anyone can experience sexual violence, most victims are female and the person responsible is usually male and known to the victim. In order to protect themselves, college-age women should think about taking a self-defense class and having self-defense items with them at all times. It’s also essential to know how to contact the campus security office, and always call 9-1-1 if an emergency arises.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that about 4 in 5 college students drink alcohol and almost 40% report that they’ve engaged in binge drinking, which for men is defined as having five or more drinks, and for women, four or more drinks, at any singular time. The short-term effects of drinking are harmful in many ways. Being under stress is correlated with excessive drinking. When students drink, they often have poorer academic and life outcomes. Several large studies on sexual violence have found that more than half of all incidents are related to alcohol use. Also, studies reveal that at least 1,400 college students die every year from alcohol-related accidents and about 600,000 college students get into alcohol-related fights. Alcohol also has a long-term effect on the brain. A significant amount of research shows that young adults who drink heavily have abnormalities in the gray and white matter of their brains and those who drink heavily are more likely to have alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse later in life. There are ways to help reduce the negative impacts alcohol can have, such as not drinking too much, arranging for a designated driver, partying at a place within walking distance or booking a cab ahead of time. Never get into a car with driver that has been drinking. If you’re using drugs, don’t drive and don’t ride with someone who has been using drugs. Also, avoid secondhand smoke because it’s just as harmful as if you were smoking yourself. Don’t drink alcohol, use drugs or smoke if there is any chance you could be pregnant. Some important things to keep in mind if you’re trying to make yourself feel better after drinking is that acetaminophen doesn’t mix with alcohol. Your liver is very sensitive and has a hard time processing the two together. Using them at the same time can result in you needing to be hospitalized. Ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding, especially after drinking alcohol.
There’s no question that college students have schedules that are far different from people who aren’t in college. Typically, this involves poor sleeping habits, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating behaviors. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis increases your risk factor for many chronic diseases, like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and depression. On a side note, driving when you’re sleepy can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. It’s essential to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. You can do this by avoiding large meals before bed, making sure your room is quiet, dark, and relaxing and sticking to a sleep schedule. A sleep schedule means that you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. Also, it means managing your time well so you can avoid pulling all-nighters to study.
Many college kids aren’t heeding the advice that warns them that they aren’t impervious to the obesity epidemic. While many college students fear gaining the “freshman 15,” it’s not as common as everyone thinks. Typically, college freshman only gain somewhere between 3 to 5 pounds. This is because college students tend to eat more high-calorie foods, especially late at night while studying or at social activities that take place in the evening. However, with a little planning, healthy eating achievable. It’s important to eat regular meals that include healthy foods that will keep your energy levels up. If you need food when you’re on the go, fruits and vegetables are a natural source of energy. If you living on a budget, it can be a good idea to identify healthy foods you can include in your diet. It’s important to keep in mind that eating disorders can be common among college students, especially women, and should be taken seriously. Another big thing that impacts the health of college students is that they don’t get enough physical activity. You should strive to get at least 2½ hours of physical activity a week. Not only will this to help improve your overall health and fitness, but it can greatly reduce your risk for many chronic conditions.
One health condition that is surprisingly starting to appear in college students is high blood pressure. While this is often diagnosed in older people, but it’s becoming more common among college students because of factors like genetics, diet and stress. Stress can come from a wide variety of sources, but one that is on the rise is debt. Since tuition rates are higher than ever before, many students are taking on extraordinary amounts of debt. Research has found that while students with debt often spend less time partying and more time studying, they are also more likely to worry about their financial burden and this causes anxiety, stress and sleeping problems. One area in particular that has shown high stress levels and increased incidents of high blood pressure is among students pursuing advanced degrees because the financial and academic stakes are higher.
Despite college being a time of growth and learning on many levels, it can be stressful and negatively impact your health. However, several studies have found that having a higher level of education is typically associated with better health in the long-term. This is due to the fact that people with higher levels of education tend to have improved brain development and less biological aging. Also, they have better awareness of and compliance with healthy behaviors. In addition, those with higher levels of education often have better economic success and family stability, which can incidentally lead to better health outcomes. According to the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, those who finish college live a few years longer than those who dropped out of college and several years longer than those who did not finish high school. The study also found that the children of college graduates were more likely to survive than those of college drop outs.
College is a great time to learn about yourself and the world. The key thing is being prepared for the things that can negatively impact your health and do what you can to prevent them. It’s also important to know what to do and where to go if you need help. By doing this you’ll have an awesome college experience and be ready to tackle the world when you’re done.