Mental health for college students is a growing concern among students, parents, and health professionals. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, three out of four lifetime mental health conditions start developing by age 24. This makes the formative years of college an especially important time to talk about mental health.
College can be a challenging time
College is full of excitement, but it’s also a time when young people face a number of new challenges. It’s important to talk these challenges when discussing mental health for college students.
Depression can come in the form of homesickness and loneliness. It can come from feelings of exclusion, or simply not fitting in. Severe depression may lead to thoughts of suicide. According to NAMI, 30% of college students reported feeling so unhappy that they couldn’t function.
Pressure to perform well on tests, and worries about college tuition can cause unhealthy levels of anxiety. That “Where am I going with my life?” feeling and social anxiety can also take a toll on a college student’s mental health.
Stories about the “Freshman 15” and a negative body image can lead to eating disorders.
With alcohol, recreational drugs, and now prescription drugs being used as “study drugs”, addiction is a very real problem that many college students must face.
All of these challenges can take a toll on mental health. While many overcome these challenges, they can have short term and long term effects on a student’s health.
Watch for signs of mental health issues.
While awareness of mental health problems in college is growing, parents and students don’t always recognize when there’s a problem. Mental health issues aren’t always identified, and warning signs are often missed.
Parents and students should both be aware of the signs mental health conditions. Different conditions have different warning signs, and they aren’t always obvious. Watch for changes like these:
- trouble eating
- overwhelming feelings of sadness
- feeling sad or lonely for long periods of time
- difficulties concentrating
- social withdrawal
- mood swings
Some of these signs might not seem concerning, but they could indicate a more serious mental health issue.
If you or someone you know is thinking about self harm, seek immediate help.
What you can do to promote good mental health for college students
Mental health issues are common, and they’re nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed of. It’s good to remind yourself, and remind others of this fact.
Establishing healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and socializing can help promote good mental health.
Understand that there are short term and long term health effects that come with stress, anxiety, and depression. These aren’t necessarily things that will just go away.
Make a plan to share your health information if you have an existing condition, but also if you don’t have mental health issues. Schools may not be able to share your information. College students should find out whether their school has an authorization form to share sensitive information with a parent, guardian, or trusted adult, and make a plan.
Seek help if you need it. If you’re worried about a friend, take the risk and talk about it. Sometimes you simply don’t know that there’s a problem, but sometimes the stigma of mental health can keep conversations from happening. A study by the American College Health Association found that only 12% of students who experienced significant anxiety and depression sought counseling. There’s strength in asking for help, and it’s not something to feel bad about.
Talk to a friend, parent, student health services, or talk to your doctor to ask for help. Your primary care physician may refer you to a psychiatrist to help provide mental health.