The study, conducted by Carlos Blanco, M.D., Ph.D., of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, New York, and colleagues, found that almost half of the individuals surveyed met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder but only one-fourth of those had sought treatment.
"For many, young adulthood is characterized by the pursuit of greater educational opportunities and employment prospects, development of personal relationships and, for some, parenthood," the authors said.
"While all of these circumstances offer opportunities for growth, they may also result in stress that precipitates the onset or recurrence of psychiatric disorders," they added.
The data were drawn from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which focused on people ages 19 to 25 between 2001 and 2002 and included more than 2,188 people in college and 2,904 who were not attending college.
A total of 45.8 percent of college students and 47.7 percent of young adults not in college met the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.
The most common disorder in college students was alcohol abuse, which 20.7 percent were found to have, followed by personality disorders, at 17.7 percent.
In young adults not attending college, the most frequent disorder was personality disorders, 21.6 percent, and nicotine dependence, 20.7 percent.
College students were less likely to have a diagnosis of drug use disorder, nicotine dependence or bipolar disorder and were less likely to have used tobacco. However, their risk of alcohol use disorders was significantly greater.
Treatment rates were low for all psychiatric disorders. College students were significantly less likely to receive treatment for alcohol or drug use disorders than those not in college.
Overall, the researchers found that the rate of psychiatric disorders is high among young adults, who are at a vulnerable stage of development.
The study is published in the December issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.