A new study conducted by researchers in the United States shows the rate of severe mental illnesses is on the rise among college students.

Researchers at Hofstra University also found that prescription medications to treat psychiatric illness has also risen significantly among students over the past decade as more young people with mental health issues tackle a post-secondary education.

They studied diagnostic records of nearly 3,300 undergraduate and graduate students who had sought college counselling at some point in the 10 years between 1997 and 2009.

The investigators found that over the years most students had been diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders after examining information concerning mental disorders, suicidal tendencies and behavioral reports.

Even though the nature of these cases had remained relatively mild over time, on average, the researchers noted a small peak in the number of in-counselling students who were diagnosed with a single mental disorder, from 93 percent in 1998 to 96 percent in 2009.

The percentage of students who suffered from moderate to severe depression had also risen over the years, from 34 percent to 41 percent.

While just 11 percent of the students in counseling had been prescribed psychiatric medications in 1998 for diseases such as depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, that figures went up to 24 percent by 2009.

"If we look at the average college student and their level of psychological and emotional functioning and distress, on the whole they are not necessarily worse off than they were 10 years ago," says John C. Guthman, director of student counselling at Hofstra University's division of student affairs, who authored the report.