Managing Your Mental Health in College

Last updated: April 2020

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 39% of college students report a significant mental health issue.

According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) at Pennsylvania State University, there has been a 54.4 percent increase in college students who sought out mental health counseling in 2018. Of their chief concerns, anxiety and depression topped the list.

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 the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, poor sleep patterns often develop in college and lead to a variety of issues including lower GPAs, mental health issues, and poorly performing in the classroom. Mental health counselors can discuss positive sleep habits with college students, encouraging those with anxiety, depression, or high stress to create healthier sleeping habits.

Students Are Seeking Help

Even with such a prevalence of anxiety and depression among college students, many are seeking help and universities. Although there are a variety of reasons for this, the increase may 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 TIMES article, some students are put on a two-week waitlist 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 the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally. 

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 Forbes, students seeking counseling treatment increased between 30-40% and rapid access resources from counseling centers increased by 28%, but routine treatments decreased by 7.6%. 

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.

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.

It’s also important for colleges and universities to have faculty and staff trained in mental health awareness and to be able to recognize the warning signs of a mental health emergency. This helps identify students who may be struggling and create a caring and safe campus culture. 

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

Information on is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified professionals with any questions you may have regarding mental health issues.