What You Need to Know About Mental Health
Attending college is an exciting adventure rife with opportunities and challenges for everyone. A mix of emotions can come from gaining greater independence, meeting new people, integrating into a new community, and creating memories that last a lifetime. For many college students, college creates stress and anxiety that adversely impacts their mental health.
As a result of this truth, we have put together this resource guide to help students, parents, friends, and school administrators best support the mental health of college students everywhere. Our guide includes data on mental health in college, potential signs mental health issues, common stressors, ways to help manage stress, and other resources.
Mental Health in College
It is vital to understand that mental health conditions are common, in college or otherwise. The following statistics have been culled from comprehensive studies performed by the National Institute of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and American College Health Association:
- Approximately 1 in 4 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder
- Mental health disorders account for several of the top causes of disability worldwide including: clinical depression, manic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.
- Many individuals suffer from more than one mental disorder concurrently
- Nearly 10% of American adults will suffer from depression (including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia)
- Women are 2 times as likely to suffer from depression
- Both men and women are equally as likely to develop bipolar disorder
- Fully 75% of mental health conditions begin by age 24
- The vast majority of individuals that commit suicide suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder
- Four times as many men commit suicide than women
- Nearly 20% of adults from 18-54 have an anxiety disorder including: panic disorder, OCD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias (agoraphobia, specific phobia, and social phobia)
Common Signs of Mental Health Conditions
While the list of the ten most common signs of mental health conditions cannot cover every possible scenario, use it as a guide. If signs of a mental health condition become obvious, make sure to reach out to connect and engage trusted family members, friends, colleagues, peers, and professionals as needed.
- Abrupt and overwhelming fear for no apparent reason
- Extended periods of sadness or being withdrawn from others
- Extreme risk-taking behaviors
- Abstaining from food or intentionally throwing up
- Feeling, seeing, hearing things that are not real
- Excessive and repeatedly abusing chemicals, drugs, or alcohol
- Attempting to hurt oneself
- Acute fear that impedes with daily life
- Inability to concentrate or sitting still with regularity
- Radical swings in mood, sleeping habits, or behavior
While everyone may feel bits and pieces of the above list from time to time, the concern about mental health begins to take shape with extreme, extended behavior. Listen to your body and seek help if you believe life becomes unnavigable for yourself or others.
Common Stressors in College
We all experience a broad array of stressors in our daily life from an unlimited number of stimuli. The key to successfully navigating life is to learn to how to work through these stressors in a healthy manner. The following is a list of common stressors you may experience at work, school, and in social situations.
- Not meeting expectations
- Challenges with friendships or relationships
- Academic pressure
- Relationship breakups
- Stress related to money and personal finances
- Pressure of social status
- Feeling homesick and alone
- Believing you do not fit it
- Worry about family and friends back at home
- Questions about sexuality
- Coping with grief
- Being overwhelmed
- Lack of quality sleep
- Alcohol and drug use
- Change in family support
Any of these items can cause stress for college students around the globe. New experiences and different situations can create stress and anxiety for us all. From new social situations, living arrangement, food, sleeping habit, and expanded independence your college experience will be similar to others but uniquely yours. Remember, through it all, you need to learn to listen carefully to your body and work to effectively process stressors.
Managing Stress & Anxiety in College
It is likely during your college tenure to face a variety of challenges that may cause: disappointment, anxiety, sadness, and a variety of overwhelming feelings. Recognizing these feelings or stressors is the first step. The next step is to take action to help cope with life’s undulations. Here are a few suggestions that other college students have benefitted from including:
- Connect with others through student organizations, clubs, sports, events, interest groups, activities, and volunteering
- Organize yourself by creating task-level action items as to-do lists will help you prioritize and organize your life
- Optimize your sleep schedule
- Find time-management strategies that work for you
- Allocate time for reflection - try relaxing music or stretching
- Seek advice from friends, counselors, and advisors how to manage stress
- Eat whole foods as part of a well-balanced diet
- Avoid alcohol and drug use
- Establish an open line of communication with friends, family, and colleagues about mental health issues
Student Mental Health Resources
The following items were created to help you get connected with the right people and organizations to help you manage your overall mental health. By seeking the resources that work best for you, results will soon follow. Be proactive, inquisitive, and open about how you are feeling and things you experience. There are a number of people and groups that care a great deal about you and your success in life. Resources include:
- Set a time to speak with your resident advisor and request confidentiality
- Meet with the dean of student affairs, school chaplain, or peer specialist
- Connect with mental health organizations on campus
- Reaching out to your campus counselor or health center
- JED Foundation – Guide to Starting Conversations About Mental Health
- MentalHealth.Gov – additional resources and mental health guides
Conversation Starters for Parents and Students
For some, knowing where to start may stop them from initiating a tough conversation. A handful of conversations starters may open up an informative dialogue between you and a loved one. Utilize these ideas to positively initiate important conversations with family or friends before and during their college tenure.
- I found this guide about mental health, let’s chat about it.
- This guide about mental health has information about coping with stress and anxiety. Let’s take a look at it together.
- Let’s talk about a few common challenges that can happen in school.
- We want to proactively discuss your physical and mental health as you approach college.
Additional Mental Health Resources
- National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- JED Foundation
- NAMI on Campus
- Campus Mental Health Guidance
- Active Minds
- Half of Us
- Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Love is Louder
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Set To Go
- U.S. Department of Education and HHS
- Student Mental Health Laws
Mental Health for College Students
College is can be an amazing adventure for young and old students, alike. Invest in your self-care and ways to effectively manage stress. Understand the common warning signs of mental health issue and how to respond to them.
Be brave and reach out for help. Opt what to share and with whom to get the help you need. Not every professional will be able to help with every aspect of mental health but they can connect you with necessary specialists as needs arise. Lastly, remember stress and anxiety are normal and early intervention is far more effective than ignoring issues.