Amy Ebeling struggled with anxiety and depression throughout college, as her moods swung from high to low, but she resisted help until all came crashing down senior year.
“At my high points I was working several jobs and internships — I could take on the world,” said Ebeling, 24, who graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey last December.
“But then I would have extreme downs and want to do nothing,” she told NBC News. “All I wanted to do was sleep. I screwed up in school and at work, I was crying and feeling suicidal.”
More than 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is why college is such a critical time.
Ebeling resisted getting therapy, but eventually got a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder from a psychiatrist associated with Ramapo’s counseling office.
“Then everything fell into place,” said Ebeling, who is doing well on medication today.
College counselors are seeing a record number of students like Ebeling, who are dealing with a variety of mental health problems, from depression and anxiety, to more serious psychiatric disorders.
According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University, which gathers data from 139 institutions, the number of students seeking help jumped 50 percent between 2015 and 2016.
Of those students who sought help, 26 percent said they had intentionally hurt themselves; 33.2 percent had considered suicide, numbers higher than the previous year.
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At Ramapo College, counselors are seeing everything from transition adjustment to more serious psychiatric disorders, according to Judith Green, director of the campus' Center for Health & Counseling Services.
Being away from home for the first time, access to alcohol and drugs and the rigorous demands of academic life can all lead to anxiety and depression.
Millennials, in particular, have been more vulnerable to the stressors of college life, Green told NBC News.
"This generation has grown up with instant access via the internet to everything,” she said. “This has led to challenges with frustration tolerance and delaying gratification."
Millennials tend to hold on to negative emotions, which can lead to self-injury, she said. It’s also the first generation that will not likely do as well financially as their parents.
"Students are working so much more to contribute and pay for college,” said Green. “Seniors don’t have jobs lined up yet.”
I dragged myself to the counseling center
Like Ebeling, many students often experience mental illness breaks in college.
She had been in grief counseling after the death of her father at age 8, and even had therapy — but refused medication — during her teen years.
“I thought that it was weakness — 'why can’t I just snap out of it?'" she said. “It became apparent it just wasn’t that easy."
She hit a deep low her senior year.
“I was a crazy over-achiever,” she said. “I got involved in all the clubs and extracurricular activities.” But when her mood dropped, she said, “I couldn’t do anything, but had all those responsibilities.”
“In one class I panicked so much, I freaked out,” said Ebeling. “I dragged myself to the counseling center.”