The Medication Generation Grows Up

College mental health and the college experience of medicated young people are prevalent themes in Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up.

Growing numbers of young people on psychotropic drugs has meant large increases in the number of students who arrive on campus with a history of medication treatment. Students whose mental health problems might have kept them from pursuing higher education in generations past now make up significant percentages of university student bodies, thanks in no small part to advances in drug development.

Still other students begin medication for the first time in college as they seek treatment for new or worsening psychiatric symptoms. They also deal with the stresses of life away from home, being in charge of their own schedules, figuring out what to do after graduation, and a host of other pressures particular to college life and college mental health.

Medication can be enormously helpful – even lifesaving – for many college students. But taking medication during college also poses its own challenges. Many young people find themselves responsible for aspects of their treatment that their parents or doctors previously handled: monitoring symptoms and medication effects, refilling prescriptions and booking appointments.

And with a new set of friends at college, they face the question of whether – and how much – to disclose to peers about their treatment. This can be especially daunting in an environment where psychiatric disorders are often discussed only in hushed tones, or in passing comments about someone who is acting “so OCD,” “so ADD” or behaving like “he’s off his meds.”

To complicate matters, many students also face the temptation to drink heavily, even while taking medications that mix badly with alcohol. Those with prescriptions for medications that are commonly abused as study aids or party drugs also face pressures to share or sell their medications,

The logistics of securing consistent, supportive treatment are often daunting. Students who attend college away from home often get their prescriptions from hometown doctors many miles away, a situation that may work out fine so long as the student is faring well.

But relapses are not uncommon, and symptoms and diagnoses often shift as young people mature, requiring changes in medication or switching to new drugs altogether, something that’s tough for doctors to do remotely. Getting medication on campus, especially on short notice, can pose its own set of hurdles. College counseling centers don’t always have access to students’ medical records, and many are overwhelmed with more patients than they can adequately serve, making it tough to secure appointments and sufficient follow-up care.

In her talk, Barnett will discuss the ways in which young adults can prepare for and handle the logistics and challenges of taking medication during college – and how they can manage new stresses that commonly arise after graduation. She will share her own experience taking medication throughout college and afterwards, and will compare and contrast it with those of young people she has interviewed who have also navigated this complex terrain (among the many subjects she interviewed for her book were several former members of the nationwide college mental health group Active Minds).