What to Know About Mental Health and College Students

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 05, 2023
4 min read

American college students often face situations that can trigger mental health problems. It's so common that experts refer to it as a crisis. About 60% of college students feel overwhelming anxiety, increasing the need for mental health services by 30-40%.

Mental health challenges in students present themselves in many forms. Mood disorders are the most prevalent. Although some people assume disorders to be part of college life, refusing to seek help can be unfair to yourself and those around you.

Identifying the cause of your mental health issues is an excellent starting point in dealing with the problem. Some causes include:

  • Growing up in abusive homes
  • Loneliness
  • Domestic abuse in adulthood
  • Having a long-term illness
  • Long-term stress
  • Social pressure
  • Discrimination and stigma
  • Prolonged poor academic performance
  • Social disadvantage or poverty
  • Drug abuse and misuse
  • Physical causes like an injury
  • Increased technology and social media use
  • Lifestyle factors like diet and lack of sleep

Understanding the types of mental health issues you may face as a college student can help to identify your symptoms. Once you do this, you can locate valuable community resources to help you cope.

Depression. This mood disorder includes persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, and hopelessness. You may also have sleep disorders, appetite changes, unexplained pain, and headaches.

Anxiety. Anxiety is a common feeling, but it can be harmful when it continues for a long time. It presents as persistent feelings of worry, panic, and tension. It disrupts normal life.

Suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are a mental health crisis, with 20% of college students reporting the condition in 2018. 

Eating Disorders. Your eating habits change, and you become so focused on your body's shape or image. The disorders can range from eating too little or overeating, followed by purging.

Addiction. If you frequently use recreational drugs and alcohol, it can lead to mental health problems. Addiction has a clear pattern of psychological and physical dependence and comes with strong cravings.

Most mental health disorders in college students start in the early twenties. Major life events can make the situation worse, especially if you have high-risk factors. For example, preparing for higher education contributes to high stress levels.

While the stigma around mental health problems is reducing, the mental health crisis can worsen if left unchecked. Mental illnesses affect your energy levels, concentration, optimism, and mental ability. When this happens, your performance in school can also decrease. Depression, for example, contributes to lower grade point averages. It may also lead to the student dropping out of school.

The conditions also come with other effects that lower your quality of life. Your academics, physical health, achievements, and relationships are all affected. In the long-term, the issues can hinder your earning potential, career, and overall health.

Campuses bear a burden when students perform poorly due to mental health challenges, as well. If a student drops out because of mental health issues, the college will incur losses in fees, tuition, and alumni donations. Colleges must prepare for the psychological impact, especially on teachers, other students, and other staff.

The larger community also suffers. When you can't complete your studies, you can't contribute your valuable skills to the job market. 4.29 million people fail to graduate from college due to mental disorders.

At a personal level, you can prevent mental health disorders from overwhelming you by:

  • Valuing yourself and treating yourself with respect and kindness
  • Making time regularly for the activities and people you love
  • Taking care of your body by eating healthy meals, taking plenty of water, and saying no to drugs
  • Exercising
  • Surrounding yourself with good people
  • Volunteering your time to worthwhile activities
  • Learning how to deal with stress
  • Quieting your mind through meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, or prayer
  • Setting realistic goals

Colleges and the general community can also take steps towards dealing with this crisis affecting college students through:

  • Awareness via on-campus mental health resources
  • Development of preventive and supportive resources
  • Off-campus referrals whenever necessary
  • Creation of a crisis response plan, periodically revised as necessary
  • Multiple communication channels to reach out to students at risk

The best preventive measures may not be enough. This calls for having a crisis response system that works. It should focus on student’s mental health to make them feel safe and supported.

Mental health issues are on the rise, and it helps if you know the signs and symptoms to look out for. Being aware of the onset of a mental health issue will help you take the necessary steps to prevent it from getting worse. Look around you for resource centers that support people with mental health issues and get the much-needed support. Seeking help can reduce your chances of dropping out of school or giving in to suicidal thoughts.