Must-Have Mental Health Resources & Support for College Students

Public service means helping others, but that can be difficult without good mental health. Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and take away tips and resources for keeping a healthy mind while in college.  

Last Updated: 12/24/2020

The start of your college career is an exciting time. A new campus, new friends and professors, and sometimes even living in a new location for the first time in your life. But when the excitement dies down, college can also be the start of difficult and stressful feelings. You may find that being away from home has you feeling down, that you’re not able to keep up with your classes the way you did in high shool, or that all the newness is actually causing you more anxiety than happiness. Whatever the problem is, it’s important to know that you’re not alone, and there are people and programs in place to help you during this transitional time. To learn about the issues facing college students today, and to gather tips and resources for maintaining your mental health in school, keep reading.

Mental Health & You: Top Issues Facing College Students Today

Whether you find yourself feeling down, overwhelmed, or unable to focus, understanding your mental health during this pivotal period in your life is crucial. Below are just some of the major issues college students like you may find themselves facing as they embark on their studies.

ADHD

Before the 1970s, the thinking was that children with attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD) would outgrow it before adulthood. But studies conducted in the mid- to late-1990s found that up to two-thirds of children with ADHD still have persistent symptoms as teens and adults. A study published in the journal Neurotherapeutics in 2012 not only reported that about 25 percent of college students receiving disability services were diagnosed with ADHD but also that the number was on the rise. Because succeeding in college requires students to be organized and have good time-management skills, those who have ADHD could struggle more than their peers.

Understanding the symptoms

Here are the most common symptoms of ADHD that you may face as a college student:

  • Not being able to pay attention
  • Low impulse control so you do things at times that are inappropriate
  • Talking too much
  • Misplacing or losing items associated with daily life such as keys or your eyeglasses
  • Struggles with friendships and romantic relationships
  • Trouble with work (school and otherwise) that requires sustained attention

How to recognize it

Here are some signs that you or a fellow student may have ADHD:

  • You don’t pay attention when spoken to
  • You dislike or avoid tasks that require you to focus
  • You’re continually turning in assignments late and missing deadlines
  • You make a lot of careless errors in your work
  • You blurt out answers to professors’ questions or finish other people’s thoughts for them

Students with ADHD also report a higher instance of drug and alcohol abuse. 

How and where to get help

Here are some resources that can help you deal with your ADHD:

Your college’s counseling center

Most colleges have on-campus counseling centers and welcome students who need assistance. Such services are almost always free and can include seminars and individual and group counseling.

Find support groups

Many students with ADHD find that by sharing their problems with others like themselves they can find solutions. Those who face similar challenges can share what works for them and give your ideas for how to help yourself. This national, searchable database of support groups from Psychology Today can help you find others who can relate to your struggles, making you feel less isolated in your journey. You may also want to join online support groups or  in person support groups that meet near where you are attending school.

Find a counselor

Lots of professionals are trained to help those with ADHD. These include educational therapists, life coaches, psychologists, and other counselors. They can help you find ways to navigate the challenges you face on campus and suggest behavioral and psychological interventions. This national directory of providers from Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) can help you locate the right counselor for you.

Anxiety

With having to juggle your coursework, your extra-curricular activities and perhaps, a part-time job, it’s not surprising that you feel anxious or overwhelmed at times. Anxiety over everything that’s on your plate can be particularly strong when you’re just starting out in college. According to a report in the fall of 2018 by the American College Health Association, as many as 63% of U.S. college students felt overwhelmed with anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, that anxiety may show up as a feeling of unease, or a sense of doom and danger. You also may have trouble sleeping or feel fatigued.

Understanding the symptoms

In addition to the symptoms above, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, you also may experience:

  • Difficulty concentrating or finding your mind goes blank often
  • Being irritable for no reason
  • Having feelings of worry that you can’t control
  • Having muscle tension
  • Having difficulty staying asleep or not getting quality sleep

How to recognize it

Here’s how to recognize anxiety in yourself or your peers, according to AnchorTherapy.org:

  • You find yourself constantly thinking, “What if?” and imaging the worst that can happen.
  • You avoid situations or certain people because you’re overanxious about what could possibly happen.
  • You find your stomach is upset and can’t explain why.
  • You have a hard time completing tasks and it’s difficult to relax and take some me-time. 

How and where to get help

Anxiety is an illness that needs to be taken seriously. Here’s how and where to get help:

Your College Campus

A good place to start looking for help is on your college campus. Many colleges and universities provide free, confidential mental health services to help students overcome anxiety. Most schools offer individual and group counseling and may offer zoom sessions to make it easier for you to join. Some also offer tips and coping suggestions online.

External Health Providers

You may need to reach out to mental health providers who work in public health facilities or have private offices. According to the Mayo Clinic, potential treatment options for those who suffer from anxiety include psychotherapy, medications, clinical trials, lifestyle coaching, and behavior modifications.

Support Groups for Those with Anxiety

You likely can find relief from your anxiety by joining a support group and talking about your challenges with others who have the same condition. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has a searchable directory of support groups on its website and the ADAA also suggests how you can start your own support group if you can’t find one near you.

Depression

Are you feeling overwhelmingly sad or lethargic and can’t seem to snap out of it? It’s been more than two weeks since you noticed you were “depressed.” You may have college depression. Given the challenges you’re facing – being on your own for the first time, having to worry about money and meals, laundry, and schoolwork – it can be overwhelming. Also, being around new people and trying to forge new relationships can be daunting. While anxiety is the top concern among college students, depression is a close second, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). More than one third of college students (36.4%) report being depressed, the APA says.

Understanding the symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, here are common symptoms of college depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Being irritable or frustrated
  • Loss of interest in activities in which you used to find joy
  • Fatigue, lack of energy for even small tasks
  • Change in appetite, either too much or too little
  • Aches and pains such as your back or head
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or dying

How to recognize it

If you have any of the symptoms above, you should not ignore them and seek help, especially if they persist for more than two weeks and you can’t seem to get yourself out of it. Are you avoiding talking to your parents or friends? Are you staying home or in your dorm rather than accepting invitations to go out and participate in campus activities? Are you sleeping more than usual? Or staying up all night and wanting to sleep during the day? These are all signs that you may be depressed.

How and where to get help

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

If you have suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates a hotline 24/7, 375 days a year. The number is 800-273-TALK (8255). It covers all areas of the country, and has chat counselors who can offer advice and someone to talk with.

The nonprofit, the Jed Foundation (JED) was founded to protect the emotional health of teens and young adults and prevent suicide. It equips teens and young adults with the skills and knowledge they need to help themselves and each other with life’s challenges, including mental health issues such as depression.

Counseling centers

Campus or nearby health facilities can provide short-term and long-term counseling for your depression. Your college center may be able to refer you to mental health care providers in your community for additional services if necessary. Many young people find they can be helped with a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication, which counselors can prescribe.

Drug & Alcohol Addiction

College is often the first taste of freedom for many young people and some take advantage of their new found freedom to experiment with drugs and alcohol. With parties and tailgates and unsupervised time, it can be hard for some to resist the temptations that drinks and drugs provide. Some of the most vulnerable to addiction are student athletes, members of frats and sororities, and those with existing mental health concerns. According to the Addiction Center, 80% of college students abused alcohol at some time. About 30% report symptoms of alcohol abuse. Likewise, according to Ashley Treatment, in 2007, more than 5% of college students admitted to cocaine use in the past year.

Understanding the symptoms

According to StartYourRecovery.org this is what happens when you drink much too much or abuse drugs:

  • Your speech becomes slurred or incoherent
  • You feel dizzy
  • You pass out
  • You can’t remember what you were doing and suffer memory loss
  • You vomit
  • You lose control of your muscles

How to recognize it

If you do or see these things in your peers, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,  you should be concerned about addiction:

  • You become uninhibited and do and say things you may regret later
  • You make unwise decisions about getting behind the wheel of a car or having sex with a stranger
  • You become aggressive and may get into physical fights with peers or people you don’t know
  • Your speech becomes slurred and you may have loss of vision
  • You vomit or choke and may pass out

How and where to get help

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) is a great place to start to get help. The helpline is free, and available 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, in English and Spanish, for those mental and/or substance use disorders. Here you can get referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. You also can order free publications and other information. SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Treatment Centers

Treatment providers such as those at the Addiction Centers can coordinate care with experienced counselors who can help you reclaim your life. Its treatment providers who offer caring, supportive, guidance and assistance 24/7 and can offer options for paying what insurance won’t cover.

The Association of Recovery in Higher Education’s has a student portal that can help you find support at a Collegiate Recovery Program or Collegiate Recovery Community at your college or university. Its goal is to empower young people who are in need of help.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, the most common of which are bulimia and anorexia, typically begin between the ages of 18 and 21, when many young people are in college. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates between 0,3-0,4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will suffer from an eating disorder. And, NEDA says, these rates are on the rise. You can develop an eating disorder when you feel as though you need to control a stressful environment. College can certainly be stressful with an increased workload and less structure than you may be used to. As a result, you focus on eating little, over exercise and become consumed by what the scale reads.

Understanding the symptoms

If you have an eating disorder, you are likely to consume lots of food in a short period of time and then purge by vomiting, compulsively exercising and/or using laxatives. As a result, you may notice:

  • Your hair thins or falls out
  • Your skin becomes dry
  • You feel cold all the time
  • You become irritable
  • You fear gaining weight
  • You lie about eating and hide food

How to recognize it

According to the Child Mind Institute, here’s how to recognize you might have an eating disorder:

  • You find yourself thinking or saying things like: “I’m so fat.” “I wish I was as thin as her.” “I can’t eat that; I’m on a diet.”
  • You constantly compare your weight to others and see yourself as “the fat one.”
  • You skip meals and avoid social events where food is the main attraction.
  • You exercise obsessively to work off what little you eat.

How and where to get help

Help on campus

Colleges typically include mental health services as part of their tuition. Some schools have student-run eating-disorder support groups. Your school may be able to refer you to psychologists and others who can provide more specialized care if necessary.

Assistance online

NEDA has forums to help anyone with an eating disorder. They include forums for males-only, for those who are recovering from an eating disorder, and for peers and siblings of those with eating disorders. Caution: Avoid those that promote eating disorders; they likely are labeled as “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia).

NEDA’s site also offers a guide to which colleges offer what services, links to support groups nationwide, and a helpline. In addition, NEDA’s site provides advice on accessing affordable treatment options if finances are an issue for you.

Professional help

A number of professionals can help you overcome your eating disorder. These include general practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, social workers, occupational and physical therapists, nurses and mental health nurses. This treatment search site can help you locate someone near you.

OCD

Some 2.2 million Americans have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. OCD affects both men and women and, like many mental health issues, typically manifests in people in early adulthood. When you have OCD, you have unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to compulsive behaviors. Often, people with OCD have a fear of germs or the need to constantly arrange objects in a specific order. Having OCD could affect your success academically and socially. It can make it difficult to concentrate in class and to participate in all the social activities of college life. The stress and unfamiliarity of moving and living on campus can make your OCD worse as well.

Understanding the symptoms

Symptoms vary from person to person. Some may have more obsessions and some more compulsions. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include:

  • Having repeated, persistent and unwanted obsessive thoughts such as a fear of germs or dirt
  • Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty
  • Requiring that objects be put or that you do things in a specific order
  • Having thoughts about losing control or harming yourself
  • Exhibiting compulsive behaviors such as constantly washing your hands or checking you’ve locked your dorm room door

How to recognize it

Here’s what to be on the lookout for if you think you or your friends may be OCD:

  • You don’t want to touch things that you’ve seen others touch
  • You appear anxious when objects aren’t placed in the way you want them to be
  • You’re checking to see if you not only locked the door but also turned off the lights, etc.
  • You have repeated thoughts of doing things that you really don’t want to

How and where to get help

Help on campus

It’s likely your college or university’s student health center or counseling service can help you with your OCD. Visit the health center or counseling service and explain that you think you might have OCD and want to see a cognitive behavior therapist. If there is no one on campus who can help, folks there still may be able to direct you to where you can get help.

Support groups

You can find a support group for OCD and related disorders. Members of support groups can help each other with ideas and strategies that work for them. They also can provide help by just talking about the challenges with those who know them well. The International OCD Foundation offers an online directory for support groups and you can find support groups near you.

Professional help

A number of professionals help people with OCD. These include psychologists, psychiatrists, physiciatric nurses, social workers, and mental health counselors. The IOCDF’s online directory also lists professionals who have indicated that they treat OCD. You can search for one in your area by population served (adults, 18-plus), specialty area, and treatments offered.

PTSD

People who have a strong reaction to a traumatic event in their lives such as an assault, sexual abuse, or serious car accident may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD might have nightmares, trouble sleeping, flashbacks and fears of the event that triggered it, and memories that can make daily living difficult. The rate of PTSD among college students, especially women, is higher than the general population. Rates of exposure to trauma peak between the ages of 16 and 20, which overlaps with the age of college students, according to a study published in the Journal of American College Health. The study authors believe that about 9 percent of college-age students suffer from PTSD. PTSD can make it difficult for you to succeed in and outside of school.

Understanding the symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person. But here are some common symptoms:

  • You keep reliving in your mind the event that triggered your PTSD
  • You avoid places and events that remind you of your trauma
  • You overreact when you see some thing or someone who reminds you of your trauma. This could be someone with the same hair color as your abuser or someone of similar build
  • You become depressed and have negative thoughts about yourself and your situation
  • You suffer from insomnia and have frequent nightmares.
  • You feel as though you’re a bundle of nerves and have heightened sensitivities.

How to recognize it

Here are some signs that you or someone you know has PTSD:

  • You’re not attending classes regularly and frequently miss important deadlines
  • You withdraw from your friends and activities that you ordinarily enjoy
  • Your grades drop because you can’t focus on your studies
  • You become irritable and aggressive without good reason
  • You startle easily
  • You wake up frequently because you’re having nightmares

How and where to get help

Your college counseling center

Your college is likely to have counseling and health centers that offer help for mental health issues including PTSD. Visit the center and ask. If no one there can help, ask for assistance in finding somewhere or someone who can.

The PTSD Alliance

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance has a list of organizations with searchable databases that can help you. These include:

  • The ADAAwhichlets you search for PTSD support groups in your area, or walks you through the steps to start your own support group.
  • ISTSS (The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies), which provides a Clinician Directory that allows you to search for a mental health professional based on your location, doctor specialty, special interests, demographic, and language.

Mental Health America

This site offers support groups and online communities where you can discuss your PTSD and seek help from others who are grappling with it, too. Visit  Mental Health America and click on PTSD.

Suicide

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, suicide is the leading cause of death among college students in America. A campus of 10,000 students will see a student suicide every two to three years. Like other mental health issues, suicide can come to the forefront as young people embark on their college careers. The environment is new as are the challenges. And students have the opportunity to experiment with drugs and alcohol which can lead to substance abuse, in turn increasing the chances of suicide.  

Understanding the symptoms

Here, according to WebMD,  are some signs and symptoms that you might be suicidal:

  • You experience long bouts of depression and moodiness lasting more than 2 weeks
  • You feel hopeless and a deep sense that little can improve your circumstances
  • You have insomnia or you sleep too much
  • You lose all interest in things that once gave you much joy and stop participating in activities
  • Your personality changes from happy to sad and behave in ways that are uncharacteristic for you
  • You turn to drugs and alcohol for relief

How to recognize it

According to Suicide Awareness/Voices of Education (SA/VE), here are signs you or your peers need help preventing suicidal thoughts:

  • You stop caring how you look
  • You are obsessed with guns or knives and preoccupied with death
  • Your grades slip and you could be failing out
  • You exhibit self-destructive behavior like binge drinking and abusing drugs
  • You visit or call friends and family to say goodbye
  • You stop going to and doing things that you once enjoyed

How and where to get help

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has information on its website that can help you understand your feelings and 800-numbers to call when you’re feeling down to find immediate help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a telephone number you can call 24/7. It’s answered by skilled, trained counselors who can help you find a reason to keep living.

Online Resource for College Mental Health 

At ULifeline.org, you can find numbers to text or to call and find help. You also can use this site to find support groups on your campus. If your campus health professionals can’t help you directly, reach out to them anyway and ask them to help find who can.

Getting Involved as a Student: Degrees Helping to Improve Mental Health

Interested in helping others who are facing these mental health issues? Many different degrees allow you to diagnose and treat those with mental illnesses, emotional difficulties, and behavioral problems. While there are many career options, all require excellent listening, decision-making, and interpersonal skills. You must also be a great communicator. Here are some degree paths and career options to consider:

Psychology

Clinical and counseling psychologists help to diagnose and then treat people who have behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. Psychologists also can help patients deal with crises, illnesses, and injuries.  With a master’s degree in psychology online or in-person, you can work as a mental health counselor or school psychologist helping people who have anxiety, depression, and panic attacks without prescribing medication. If you complete a PhD program in psychology online, you can work as a psychologist providing different therapies and medications in a private or group setting and help people with substance abuse and behavioral disorders.

Counseling

After you earn a master’s in counseling psychology online and have the required number of hours of supervised experience, you are able to work as a counselor and offer guidance to people who are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and well-being. Like psychologists, counselors treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, eating disorders, and more. You can work as a private counselor or for a provider of mental health services.

Social Work

Social workers can help college students with mental health concerns access programs and services that can help them deal with their issues and turn around their lives. There are degrees at all levels, but an online MSW program will give you the fundamentals to get started helping people with their mental health. Social workers can work in settings that allow them to provide help with mental health and substance abuse issues among others.

Sociology

A psychology degree is a more typical route to careers in counseling, but you can work in counseling and therapy roles with a degree in sociology as well. You can work with individuals or groups, helping them to talk through and overcome mental health issues including PTSD, eating disorders and substance abuse. However, you may need additional qualifications to pursue a career in mental health such as certification or licensure.  

Human Services

A counselor can help people find a healthy, effective path to recovery from substance abuse and other mental health issues. One path to working as a counselor is pursuing an online master’s degree in human services. A bachelor’s degree in human services also can lead to a career with organizations in the community that provide services for college students needing help with their emotional disorders.

Nursing

People who earn degrees in psychiatric or mental health nursing deal with the diagnosis, treatment, and care of patients with mental health problems. Mental health nurses can provide on-going care, including medical and therapeutic treatments to their patients. Depending on their degree and how advanced it is, mental health nurses can administer medications and medical treatments. For instance, graduates from online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs can prescribe medications to those struggling with certain mental illness.

5 Tips for Keeping a Healthy Mind While Earning Your Degree

Just like how maintaining physical health takes dedication and practice, maintaining mental health is also an ongoing process. Besides getting the professional help that you may need, there are things you can build into your daily routine that will make your mind healthier overall and lessen the stress associated with college. Here are five ways to ensure your mental health is always being taken care of.

TIP

1

Find a physical activity that you love

Sure exercise, whether a run or swim, is great for your body, but it’s also terrific for your mind. When you exercise, it releases endorphins, feel-good hormones, and you can be exhilarated from those 30 minutes you devoted to your almost-daily workout. When you find an activity you truly enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore and you’re more likely to do it without even thinking.

TIP

2

Cut out the junk food

Studies have found that people who eat poorly are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. A diet of processed meats, sugars and sweets, and fried foods can make you feel sluggish and bloated. You will feel better about yourself if your diet relies more heavily on low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, and fresh fruits and vegetables. A healthy body can be the gateway to a healthy mind.

TIP

3

Get enough sleep, but not too much

Getting quality sleep is as important to your health as eating and breathing. While you sleep, your body repairs itself and your brain consolidates memories and processes information. When you lack sleep, you weaken your immune system and can suffer mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Too much sleep can be as detrimental as too little sleep.

TIP

4

Talk it out with a professional

Talking over your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member who is supportive can make you feel better. It helps just knowing that you’re being heard and someone else cares about you. However, friends and family aren’t always able to provide all the support you need. Therapists are professionally trained to listen and can help you get to the cause of your problems as well as help you find ways to make positive changes in your life. You can find a therapist online or ask your GP for a recommendation.

TIP

5

Breathe, relax, meditate

A simple, yet effective way to deal with the day’s stresses is to take some time to breathe, relax and meditate. You don’t need any special equipment and you can do relaxation exercises wherever you are. A good place to start is with deep breathing where you focus all your attention on your inhaling and exhaling. You can find lots of other mental relaxation techniques and how to do them online. Meditation takes practice but it can be extremely beneficial.