In the most extensive study of its kind to date, researchers found nearly one in five young American adults have a personality disorder that interferes with daily life, and even more abuse of drugs and/or alcohol.
The disorders observed included obsessive or compulsive tendencies and anti-social behavior that can lead to violence in some cases. The study also found that less than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental problems seek help.
Personality disorders may be over-diagnosed, says one expert. But others say the results were not surprising since previous studies have suggested mental problems are common on college campuses and elsewhere.
The study involved face-to-face interviews with more than 5,000 students and non-students ages 19 to 25, regarding several disorders.
The lack of treatment is worrisome, said study co-author Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute. The findings should not only concern “students and parents, but also deans and other officials who run college mental health services about the need to extend treatment access.”
Including substance abuse, the study found that nearly half of those surveyed have some variation of a psychiatric condition.
Personality disorders were the second most common problem behind drug or alcohol abuse. Obsessive, anti-social, paranoid behaviors are more than mere quirks, but interfere with every day functions.
Researchers noted that recent tragedies such as fatal shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech have raised awareness about the prevalence of mental illness on college campuses.
Researchers highlight the need for mental health services to be housed with other medical services on college campuses, to erase blame and make it more likely that people will seek help.
Personality disorders were similar among students and non-students, including obsessive compulsive personality disorder. An estimated 8 percent of young adults in both groups had this illness, which includes an extreme preoccupation with details, rules, orderliness and perfectionism.
Most good students have a touch of “obsessional” personality that helps them work harder to achieve. But that’s different from having an obsessional disorder that makes individuals inflexible and controlling which interferes with their lives, he explained.
Obsessive compulsive personality disorder is different than the more commonly known OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which involves repetitive actions such as hand-washing to avoid extreme fear of germs.
While the study didn’t examine OCD separately, it was grouped in with all anxiety disorders, seen in 12 percent of college-aged people in the survey. OCD affects about 2 percent of the general population.
Substance abuse, including drug addiction and alcoholism that affects school or work, affected nearly one-third of those in both groups.
More college students than non-students were problem drinkers -- 20 percent compared to 17 percent. And, slightly more non-students had drug problems -- nearly 7 percent compared to 5 percent.
The study is published in the December issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. #