Mental illness increases in U students

Third-year University student Jesse Lickel said he had a good summer.

He spent a weekend in Bemidji, Minn., at the state’s Green Party caucus, helping choose delegates for the party’s national convention. He studied Spanish and economics, and moved into a new apartment.

Yet, four years ago, Lickel survived a suicide attempt, at which point he was diagnosed with a mental illness.

Since then, he’s been hospitalized four times, including twice for electroconvulsive therapy, he said.

Numbers of students with significant mental illnesses seem to be increasing, Dr. Gary Christenson, director of the Mental Health Clinic at Boynton Health Service, said.

“More and more people with severe depression are coming to college than before,” Christenson said.

That is because mental illnesses are more socially accepted, and better and early treatments are available, he said.

From 2003 to 2004, 348 students registered with a psychiatric disability, compared with 196 students with attention deficit disorder, and 182 with learning disabilities, Roberta Juarez, assistant director of Disability Services, said.

Psychiatric disabilities surpassed all other disabled categories in 1999, said Barbara Blacklock, an education specialist at the University’s disabilities office.

Between 1998 and 1999, 285 students registered with a psychiatric disability, she said.

Lickel, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago, said his disabilities include “pretty standard depressive symptoms.”

“Feeling bad about myself, suicidal thoughts, lack of energy, anxiety. Eventually, if things get bad enough, the manic side sort of comes into it,” he said. “I get very irritable or agitated, (I have) delusional thoughts, auditory hallucinations. I get more intense, restless (and) definitely much more arrogant.”

Overall, a student with a disability has more responsibilities than a normal student, Lickel said.

For example, he said, he takes low doses of three medications: an antidepressant, an antipsychotic drug and an extended-release stimulant.

Side effects can be severe, Lickel said. During the first two years of his illness, his medications made him so sedated he sometimes slept 15 hours a day and gained 80 pounds.

Lickel has lost some of the weight he gained. He now sleeps between six and 10 hours a day, which are improvements he attributes to electroconvulsive therapy and the stimulant.

Lickel attributes other successes to an early diagnosis, he said.

“I think the reason I do so well is that I was caught early enough,” he said.

He credits his life and his college career to his family.

“I’m pretty positive that without the support of my family, I’d be dead by now,” Lickel said. “No matter how hard I’ve tried to push them away at times, they’ve refused to give up on me.”

Lickel said family is important to him, especially his brother. Until 2000, Lickel and his brother Jim Lickel were never close, they said.

“(The mental illness) kind of cut away the petty differences between us,” Jim Lickel said.

“When it’s your own family, you want to be able to help if you can,” he said.

“He’s always bugging me to make sure I’m taking care of myself,” Jesse Lickel said. “He can tell me the same things that my mom can tell me and be more likely to get away with it.”

The motivation expands into mediation during conflicts Jesse Lickel has with their parents.

Sources of conflict vary from which classes Jesse Lickel will take to where he will live, he said.

When Jim Lickel learns of a conflict, he calls their parents and “sort of calms them down,” Jesse Lickel said.

“As dramatic as it sounds, this is life and death for me,” he said. “It’s difficult to argue intelligently when there is so much emotion.”

Jesse Lickel’s mental illness also motivated Jim Lickel to apply himself as a student for the first time, Jim Lickel, who is now majoring in psychology, said.

The struggle for independence is a rite of passage for many college students. But for someone with a significant depressive disorder, the stakes are high, Jesse Lickel said.

“Even when I’m not doing well, I can still remember when I was doing better,” he said. “I have to want to be healthy. Unfortunately, some people don’t seem to be able to remember they were healthy.”