Managing Your Mental Health in College

Anxiety, Depression, and Stress: How College Students Manage Mental Health

While one’s college years are often thought of as fun and carefree, they’re sometimes far from it. Many of today’s college students feel immense pressure from multiple areas of their lives, including academic, financial, social, and family. This pressure can lead to a range of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and stress, and can seriously impact a student’s life. According to Active Minds, a non-profit organization out to change the conversation about mental health, the pressures that students face come with huge consequences. About one-third of college students report being so depressed that it’s impacting their social and academic functioning, leading to lower GPAs and a higher probability of dropping out.

This same research shows over 80 percent of college students have felt overwhelmed within the last year and 45 percent reported feeling hopeless. These numbers are no surprise to those working as mental health counselors in colleges. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) at Pennsylvania State University, there has been a 50 percent increase in college students who sought out mental health counseling between 2015 and 2016. Of their chief concerns, anxiety and depression topped the list, followed by academic stress, issues with eating disorders, alcohol abuse, sexual assault, relationship issues, and family distress.

Mental Health Concerns and the Impact of Lifestyle Habits

Throughout the college years, students may develop maladaptive lifestyle habits. From adjusting to their new found freedom of being away from parents, excitement of dorm life, having roommates, late night studying, frat parties, and alcohol and drug experimentation, college students engage in various activities that could negatively influence their mental health.

Perhaps one of the most common is sleep deprivation. The sleep deprivation cycle, which can be caused by stress and also elevate a student’s stress level, has a huge impact on the student’s life and academic pursuits. According to Cengage Brain, poor sleep patterns often develop in college and lead to a variety of issues including missing classes, weight gain, hallucinations, and mental health concerns. Mental health counselors could discuss positive sleep habits with college students, encouraging those with anxiety, depression, or high stress to get at least eight hours of sleep a night.

Students Are Seeking Help

Even with such a prevalence of anxiety and depression among college students, many are seeking help and universities are seeing an increase in appointments with school offered mental health counselors. Although there are a variety of reasons for this, the increase can be influenced by the following:

  • College campuses are seeing an increase in mental health awareness efforts
  • More mental health resources are available both on and off campuses
  • College campuses offer lower income students accessibility to mental health counseling they previously didn’t have access to

With the steady increase in college students seeking services, many college and university mental health counseling centers can’t keep up. In a Huffington Post article, some students reported having to wait three to four weeks for an appointment to see a mental health counselor.

This is especially concerning when it comes to crisis situations. Reports of self-harm are on the rise for college students and according to Psychology Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death among this demographic. This generation of college students is experiencing stress and psychopathy at an alarming rate.

Colleges on Student Mental Health

Colleges are aware of the rise in student mental health concerns and are making strides to address the influx. According to a report by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCD), 73.1 percent of directors saw an increase in the severity of mental health reports and incidences on their campuses. Even though there has been an increase in college students seeking mental health services, it doesn’t mean that all students who need mental health treatment are being served appropriately.

Without proper interventions, many college students with mental health issues are forced to drop out of school. Yet when students have access to proper accommodations, things like tutoring, books on tape, and help facilitating communication with professors, there is a greater chance students will succeed. Colleges and universities can implement changes in other areas to improve the success of these students, such as making it easier to access mental health service, hosting peer-run mental health groups, and providing assistance with both transportation and medical bills.

The fact is one in five Americans over the age of 18 are affected by mental illness and college students are not exempt. From collegiate stressors such as timelines, acclimation rates, family pressure and relationship concerns to the whole of college life, mental health issues on college campuses are on the rise. And while many students are seeking out mental health counseling through their college counseling center, too many are not either because of stigma or being unaware of the availability of mental health services. Educational institutions could grow in their support and awareness of mental health issues to support their students who are faced with life challenges.

Resources on Student Mental Health

ActiveMinds - Student Resources
ULifeline - Project of The Jed Foundation
American College Health Association (ACHA)
The Jed Foundation - Campus Program
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - Managing A Mental Health Condition in College
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - It's Real: College Students and Mental Health
Scientific American: Surging Demand for Mental Health Care Jams College Services