December 9, 2008
Randolph psychology professor featured in news coverage
The following article was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance on Dec. 6, 2008. It is reprinted with permission.
A recent study that found nearly one in five young adults have a personality disorder has local counselors and psychology professors wondering whether the oftentimes chaotic develop-mental patterns of late adoles-cence may be misunderstood.
“A lot of college students really expect a lot of themselves and are sort of developing a more realistic view,” said Donna McGill, administrative director of health and counseling services at Lynchburg College. She is not affiliated with the study.
McGill was surprised by what she considered high statistics quoted in the study on the num-ber of young adults affected by personality disorders, she said.
“I don’t find that to be the ex-perience among my colleagues who work at colleges and univer-sities,” she said.
Her most frequent issues from students are depression and anxiety, which are not consid-ered personality disorders.
“A lot of (students) are learn-ing new coping mechanisms at that time, and some of the habits and approaches to life may not be there for the rest of their life. This may be a learning period for them and that may not necessar-ily be a personality disorder.”
The extensive study was re-leased Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry, based on face-to-face interviews with 5,092 young adults aged 19 to 25 in 2001 and 2002.
The disorders include prob-lems such as obsessive or com-pulsive tendencies and anti-social behavior that can sometimes lead to violence. The study also found that fewer than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental problems get treatment.
Substance abuse, including drug addiction, alcoholism and other drinking that interferes with school or work, affected nearly one-third of both students and non-students in the study.
John C. Thomas, director of the Ph.D. Program in counseling at Liberty University, said the study reiterates that “18 to 25 are very turbulent times.”
“There’s a lot of relationship issues with people, a lot of emp-tiness, a lot of need to medicate in some way and to reach out and find some fulfillment in some ways that aren’t necessarily healthy coping,” said Thomas, who had no part in the study. “It’s a different world today, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the college age is showing that in their own way … You worry about that being a greater issue down the road.”
Tim Loboschefski, associate professor of psychology at Sweet Briar College, said in an e-mail that the number of young adults with personality disorders in the study seemed high, but “doesn’t indicate a major shift in how things have always been.”
“These are largely the same kind of students, and same kind of problems that colleges have always had to deal with,” he wrote. “We understand them better now, and have named them — but there has not been any radical shift in the world over the last five years.”
The study authors noted that recent tragedies such as fatal shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University have raised awareness about the prevalence of mental illness on college campuses.
Thomas said that personality disorders do not usually translate to violent tendencies.
“Most people with personality disorders might be difficult to be around, but they’re not necessar-ily dangerous,” he said.
Study co-author Mark Olfson of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute called the widespread lack of treatment found in the study particularly worrisome. Students, parents and college o