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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.