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Brophy Roundup

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Anxiety and depression on a rise in students


David Albelais

The Roundup

Anxiety and depression in high school students have been on a steady rise over the last couple of decades, mainly coming from extreme stress and high amounts of pressure in day-to-day life. Students today are five times more likely to suffer from either one of these illnesses compared to a student fifty years ago.

“Anxiety and depression you see a lot of different answers on the internet and a lot of different definitions and we use them in conversation differently than what they are used clinically. Clinically, there are different criteria and time frames that must be met, “ said Dr. Colleen Feeney Wilson

Dr. Feeney is a first-year Brophy faculty who works in the counseling department in Romley Hall. She studied psychology and works in mental health. She grew up here in the valley and attended Xavier College Preparatory. 

She has worked in substance abuse clinics, the Methadone Clinic in Flagstaff, many school-based programs in the Creighton school district, and in a private practice doing forensic interviews for the court’s system. 

According to Mental Health America, “15.08% of youth experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, a 1.24% increase from last year’s dataset. In the bottom-ranked states, up to 19% of youth ages 12-17 experienced major depression.”

Another popular drug currently being used by many teens in high school is nicotine, typically done through vaping.

Dr. Feeney explains, “[Vaping] is marketed as something that’s going to be soothing and calming, but in reality, it’s not, it’s a stimulant and it will probably add to your anxiety.”

If you are already using nicotine and you are struggling with addiction, it might be something where you need to seek outside help. You can seek counseling or use methods like meditation and mindful exercises

When discussing the issue of addiction to nicotine, Dr. Feeney said, “The physical dependence on nicotine is difficult and hard to stop and I think marijuana is a similar thing in my mind wherein the moment it can feel like it is relieving a symptom of anxiety, but it can actually add to anxiety too and create paranoia. Now you are back to where you started and now feel guilty for using which makes it a vicious cycle.”

Vapes are electronic devices that heat a liquid containing nicotine to release vapor or smoke to be inhaled. Oftentimes, hitting it fast and for an extended period causes a so-called “buzz” or dizziness. 

According to a recent study done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “Among people aged 12 to 20, 11.8 percent (or 4.4 million people) used tobacco products or used an e-cigarette or other vaping device to vape nicotine.”

These newer forms of substances are often used to relieve anxiety. The Mayo Clinic reported that “Anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).”

Typically it is caused by a high level of stress, which we can see from our data shown, many high school students experience. Anxiety can often lead to many other physical and mental effects such as obesity, heart disease, depression, and sleep deprivation. 

Depression has often led to self-harm or suicidal thoughts/attempts. Self-harm is another common way to release tension or emotions for those struggling with these illnesses. Some of the ways people do self-harm are cutting, scratching, burning, and constantly picking at wounds. You can spot someone who has done these in either the past or recently if they have scars or fresh bruises/cuts. 

Many, however, are not being treated. “Over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment. Even in states with the greatest access, nearly one in three are going without treatment”, reports the Mental Health America organization. 

Males commonly have issues with expressing their encounters with these situations due to a sense of masculinity and perspective. 

Dr. Feeney says, “The more that men who do get help can share comfortably, the more that stigma is going to get reduced. The more we can normalize that everyone needs help sometimes, the better. It takes maturity and strength to recognize when something is beyond your ability to manage.”

If you or know someone, who is struggling with depression, anxiety, high levels of stress, or substance abuse, please contact Dr. Feeney. She is on the second floor of Romley Hall and her email is If you would like to contact the suicide hotline, you can find it on the back of your school ID. (1-800-273-8255)

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