You may have heard about a growing trend in college students seeking help for mental health concerns. While this is a positive sign that stigma has decreased, it also indicates that young adults are increasingly facing mental health challenges.
One study found that nearly half of college-age individuals had a psychiatric disorder in the past year. 73 percent of students surveyed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported having a mental health crisis while in college. These startling statistics have led many to call this trend “the college student mental health crisis.”
Why are we seeing these increases in mental health concerns, and what can schools, communities, and medical professionals do to address it?
Entering college can trigger mental health disorders
Many mental health disorders have an average age of onset in the early twenties. Additionally, major life events can act as a trigger for a disorder if someone has risk factors. Given these two factors, it’s not surprising that mental health disorders often start in college.
Even if someone doesn’t develop a formal disorder, they might still struggle. It’s difficult to navigate the stress of the transition to college. An overwhelming workload, unfamiliar environment, and other stressors can lead to a mental health crisis.
What causes mental health issues in college students?
There is not one universal cause of a mental health condition, rather, it’s often the case that a number of factors play into causing a disorder.
Pressure to succeed
Many college students feel immense pressure to succeed academically. The desire to achieve high grades in a difficult academic environment can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety. Students may overwork themselves and neglect their own well-being, especially if they procrastinate on assignments. Procrastination itself can be a coping mechanism for anxiety about grades.
Students may also be pressured to look to the future and decide on a career path. They may feel the need to obtain full-time employment right after graduation because they have invested so much time and money into their degree.
College costs increased by over 25 percent from 2008 to 2018. Many young adults must take out loans to afford tuition, room and board and other fees. This can lead to financial worries as students wonder how they will pay back these loans after graduation. And the financial cost only increases the pressure to succeed in one’s chosen field.
On top of all of this, textbooks and other supplies are expensive. Students may have to work one or more jobs in college to cover these costs. Juggling work and school can increase stress levels and anxiety, as well as take away from your time to sleep and relax.
Uncertainty about the future
Many students enter college without deciding on a major; even those who have declared a major may not have a clear idea of what they want to do with their degree. This indecision and lack of direction may lead to anxiety or even depression.
Our society promotes the idea of immediately entering college after high school, and then immediately starting a career after college. Unfortunately, this can cause stress for students who need more time to decide what career path they want to take.
What we see as a mental health crisis might be due to an increase in students seeking mental health services. Some researchers believe that the rates of mental health concerns are about the same as they have always been, but more students are open about their struggles and are more willing to seek treatment.
Regardless of what is causing the mental health crisis, colleges and communities should work together to address students’ concerns.
Tips for addressing college student mental health
There are a number of ways students can prepare themselves for the transition into college and set themselves up for success during this time:
- Let go of expectations and take college one day at a time
- Keep yourself on a routine to avoid procrastinating and stress
- Seek help — either from a family member, friend or professional — when you start to struggle
- Prioritize sleep, exercise and healthy eating
- Take time for self-care
When you feel your mental health start to slip, assess what’s going on in your life to cause the upset and take steps to reset your mind and rebalance your lifestyle.
Mental health counseling for college students
While many college campuses offer to counsel students, some might seek more intensive mental health treatment, or simply desire the privacy of an off-campus facility. The Light Program is pleased to offer counseling services to both teens preparing for college and young adults. To learn more, contact us via our website, or give us a call at (610) 644-6464.