Liz Buckley

Affecting more than 19 million, anxiety disorders can first occur in college

Allison Modica thought she was losing her mind.

She was suddenly overwhelmed with pessimistic thoughts about herself and the people around her. Her heart beat rapidly as her entire body tensed up. She couldn’t eat anything because she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep it down.

Modica wasn’t going crazy. She was having a panic attack.

“Nothing makes sense when I’m having an attack,” Modica said.

Modica, a graduate student at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, suffers from panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder, and she isn’t alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 19 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 54 have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of psychological and biological factors. An anxiety disorder can affect certain parts of the brain like the limbic system.

The limbic system is made up of the hippocampus, hypothalamus, amygdala and other surrounding parts of the brain. It is responsible for emotions.

“The limbic system is the heart and soul of fight or flight,” said David M. Fresco, assistant professor of psychology. “The amygdala deploys fight or flight.”

A person with an anxiety disorder has an amygdala that sets off the alarm for fight or flight constantly.

Modica said she has had panic attacks since she was a teenager, but many people develop anxiety disorders while in college.

A person could have experienced symptoms of an anxiety disorder in the past, but a full-blown disorder might not develop until the transition into college, Fresco said.

Carolyn Turner Schneiderman, a licensed clinical psychologist at Psychological Services at University Health Services, treats people with anxiety disorders. Her patients are mostly college students. The anxiety disorders she sees most often in her patients are panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

“The thing about panic attacks is that they come out of the blue at quite unpredictable times,” Schneiderman said. “Half of the problem is the attack itself. The other half is the fear of the next attack.”

Modica tries to keep one step ahead of a possible panic attack.

“Social situations, new people, the unknown trigger my attacks,” she said. “I try to run through the experience in my head and figure it all out before I actually do something. This is something to better prepare myself, but I never know when an attack will sneak up on me.”

“We have a really good investment committee, so we saw an above average return,” said Kathy Stafford, vice president of University Relations and Development. “And then because of our fundraising efforts we’ve had more to invest.”

Steve Sokany, associate vice president for University Development, said that while the sum of money the university can use from endowments may not be as large as one would think, it does mean more money for students.

“If you look at how much money is spun off a $65,000 endowment and compare it to the university’s budget, it’s very small,” he said. “From year to year, students are going to see an increase in the number of scholarships they can apply for. Scholarships are the most tangible way students will see a benefit from endowments.”

Such success has been a trend for Kent State, Sokany said.

“We measure (success) in benchmarks,” he said. “We’ve beaten our benchmarks in five of the past eight years.”

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at [email protected].