To have a healthy body, you will need to have a healthy mind. Placing a priority on your psychological and emotional well-being affects how you think and feel. College is a challenging time for most students, and reaching out for help when you need it is a vital part of your long-term success.
This article addresses some of the problematic situations college students face and provides resources for finding help while keeping most students' financial and logistical limitations in mind.
Common Mental Health Issues College Students Might Face
While every person is different and deals with unique circumstances, some issues can occur when facing specific challenges. College is a time of transition for students and their families back home and speaking with a licensed mental health counselor makes the process easier for everyone concerned.
Anxiety rates have historically been higher among college students for many reasons.
Recent studies indicate rising anxiety levels across the board among college students. Due in part to the pandemic but also to more common struggles with everyday stress. Stress and anxiety are not the same things, but they are related. Stress is a normal part of life, and it comes from things like preparing for an important exam or finishing up a research paper. But anxiety is sometimes the way we respond to stressful situations that we are finding overwhelming or difficult to cope with.
Neither stress nor anxiety is inherently bad but when you have too much of either for sustained periods of time you need to take action.
Anxiety always lives in the future and tells you that something terrible is going to happen even if it won't say what. When you start avoiding or turning away from the situations that make you feel fear you make anxiety stronger so do seek out help if you feel that anxiety is making your life "smaller" and harder to navigate.
Unsurprisingly, the most common mental health diagnosis among college students is anxiety, affecting nearly one out of four students. Symptoms might include a feeling of general unease, uncontrollable worry, inability to focus, and sleep disturbance.
Anxiety can also lead to episodes of panic where physical symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heart rate and light-headedness might appear.
Much like anxiety, depression rates among college students are also rising, with many institutions seeing double-digit increases in the past year alone. Depression presents with different symptoms than anxiety, making it more challenging to spot in ourselves and our peers.
Learning how to navigate a new environment without a familiar support system can be unbelievably challenging. It is also a significant reason for depression among students. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can be overwhelming. Spending substantial time around others dealing with the same issue can exacerbate the problem.
Depression is not experienced the same way by everyone. Some people struggling with depression may have insomnia, while others sleep too much. Some people may lose interest in eating while others begin to overeat. But a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and unrelenting feelings of sadness and hopelessness are much more common, and aches and pains that don’t get better with time.
If you do feel you are suffering from depression it's really important to try and keep doing the things that used to make you feel joy even though it might feel like a challenge. So do your best to stay in touch with friends and family, get outside for a walk every day, and try and keep eating healthily and getting enough rest.
Addiction is a complex study on its own, but when added in with the unique demands of college, it can be particularly formidable. For many students, early experimentation with drugs and alcohol can appear to have few, if any, negative consequences. With seemingly no adverse outcome, this behavior can lead to feelings of invincibility and lowering of inhibitions.
Many colleges and universities have regulations that ban alcohol and similar substances on campus. Still, the effectiveness of these bans is usually less than desired for both school administrators and parents alike.
According to the National Institutes of Health, current alcohol and illicit drug use trends on college campuses reveal mixed results. Binge drinking and illegal drug use appear to decline, but marijuana and opioid use are increasing.
While the occasional legal consumption of alcohol is typical among college students, knowing the signs of addiction to alcohol and other substances is essential for identifying problem behavior.
If you find yourself thinking about drink or drugs to the extent that it absorbs your focus and overshadows your study and relationships it might be a sign that you need to take action.
If you notice in yourself or others mood swings, defensiveness, agitation, inability to focus, signs of tiredness, weight loss, or general indications of poor health without any clear reason it's important for you to seek help.
Despite common misconception self-harm is unlikely to be indicative of an attempt to commit suicide but rather a strategy for dealing with emotional pain that the sufferer feels unable to process in any other way, and an attempt to take some level of control in a situation in which they feel totally without it.
College students are at increased risk of engaging in self-harm or self-injury behaviors as they may feel overwhelmed with adjusting to a new environment with fewer restrictions. Loneliness, perfectionism, a need to be in control and an absence of any obvious opportunity to talk about or express powerful and uncomfortable feelings, are common traits in individuals engaging in self-harm.
Frequent straight parallel cuts on the arms or legs, frequent scratches or bruises along wearing long sleeves in warm weather are behaviors that could indicate self-harm engagement.
The pressure of being constantly surrounded by peers in unfamiliar circumstances and less-structured circumstances can lead many young people to an eating disorder in a quest to regain control over their environment. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two most common eating disorders in 18-25-year-olds, and rates of eating disorders among college students have reached alarming levels.
The diagnosis and treatment of an eating disorder tends to be complex work but it is absolutely critical that anyone suffering gets proper professional help because the risks of long-term eating disorder are so devastating.
Eating disorders take a tremendous toll on a person's emotional and physical health. Add Severe damage to the teeth and mouth are typical among those suffering from eating disorders. With binging and purging, a person causes long-term damage to the delicate linings of the throat and sphincter muscles that regulate food volume in the stomach.
Despite being aware of the dangers people who suffer from an eating disorder are unlikely to be able to change their behaviour without help.
Where To Get Help
If you or someone you are concerned about needs help, please reach out to your school’s mental health center or check out any of these online resources as soon as possible.
Anxiety and Depression Help
- Guide to Finding Professional Therapists
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline
- National Institute of Mental Health
- NAMI Support Group Locator
- Dealing With Depression
- What's Your Grief? (Grief Support)
Inclusive Help and LGBTQIA+ Assistance
- The Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ Students
- Finding Mental Health Care That Fits Your Cultural Background
- Inclusive Therapists
- LGBTQI | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
Self Harm Relief
Eating Disorders Assistance
State Mental Health Resources
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
Online Therapy Services
These crisis hotlines are also a great alternative if finding in-person help isn’t an option:
- Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
- SAMHSA's National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- ULifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
Spill is a London-based mental health startup on a mission to reduce the world's unnecessary emotional pain. Spill works with businesses to make video therapy sessions accessible to employees in just three clicks.
Worried that you might be burning out? Check out Spill's burnout symptoms test and burnout recovery plan for tools and tips on how to spot the signs and overcome burnout.
Reviewed by: Graham Landi
Graham Landi is a therapist working with Spill, a startup supporting businesses with mental health. Graham is registered with the NCS and works with clients remotely from Kent, where he's based. He has worked extensively with issues around addiction in particular.