- Common Mental Health Challenges Faced by College Students
- Maintaining Social-Emotional Wellness
- Managing Physical Health and Personal Safety
- Getting Mental Health Support for Academics and Learning
- Finding Mental Health Support and Resources After College
One of the many factors that contribute to a student’s success in college is maintaining mental health. For some, this is a relatively simple task, while others may have difficulty accessing the resources they need. An annual survey conducted by The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 21% of students that visit their campus counseling center have a severe mental illness concern, while another 40% have mild mental health concerns (Mistler et al., 2019).
However, research shows that the rate at which students with mental illness seek treatment is very low (Pedrelli, 2015). It is important that college students maintain their mental health not only for the sake of their health in general, but because it can affect their personal relationships, their social and emotional wellness, and success in school and after college.
There are numerous mental health challenges that college students are faced with every day. Listed below are just a few of the most common mental illnesses, explanations of what they are, and resources for coping with each.
Individuals who have been diagnosed with ADHD may have trouble focusing on daily tasks (such as chores, work, and academics), act without thinking, or be overly active. Individuals with ADHD might:
- Daydream more than others;
- Find it difficult to resist temptations;
- Frequently lose or forget things;
- Experience rapid mood changes;
- Take unnecessary risks;
- Engage in excessive activity or feel restless.
Here are a few resources college students with ADHD can utilize.
- Attention-Deficit Disorder Association: The ADDA is a non-profit organization that helps adults with ADHD live better lives. They provide individuals with information and resources (i.e. virtual support groups, conferences, webinars, and newsletters) exclusively about and for adults with ADHD. They aid individuals with the transition to post-secondary education, adults with ADHD seeking support and connections, adults with ADHD in the workplace, and adults with ADHD in the criminal justice system.
- CHADD: Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, is a non-profit organization that was created to improve the lives of individuals that are diagnosed with ADHD. They provide various resources such as support and advocacy groups, education seminars, coaching services, and more.
- Shire: This guide aids students with ADHD and their parents in finding a college that best fits their needs. It provides the students with six steps to follow, along with basic tips on looking for a college and a college checklist.
Statistics show that about 31% of college students report symptoms of alcohol abuse and about 80% of college students have abused alcohol at some point during their college career (Juergens & Hampton, 2020). Being surrounded by temptations, it can be difficult for students to refrain from partaking in alcohol and substance use. There are resources available for students who may suffer from alcohol and/or substance abuse.
- American Addiction Center Guide for College Students and Substance Abuse: This guide created by American Addiction Centers educates college students on the hazards that come along with alcohol and substance abuse. It also provides students with advice on how to get help, how to say no to peer pressure, and the importance of knowing the dangers that can come along with social media and the urge to drink and/or do drugs.
- College Drinking Prevention: This resource created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) gives students a list of different informative guides such as fact sheets on college drinking, alcohol myths, consequences of drinking alcohol, and more. Students can access this guide to find out more about alcoholism and ways to intervene either for themselves, or someone they know.
- Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT): SBIRT has the ability to screen individuals to assess the severity of their substance use and determine what type of treatment is the best fit.
- Start Your Recovery: Start Your Recovery has the main goal of being the single source people need to start their journey towards recovery. They provide resources on how to find a treatment program as well as tips on how to stay sober.
Occasional feelings of anxiety are normal. When anxiety starts to impact day-to-day life, however, it's important to talk with a trained professional. Research shows both genetic and environmental factors play a role in anxiety disorders. Some symptoms of anxiety include:
- Chest pain;
- Excessive worry;
- Frequent urination;
- Inability to sleep;
- Rapid heartbeat;
- Shortness of breath;
Below are resources students can utilize to help them manage their anxiety.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is a non-profit organization that focuses on prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety and other mental illnesses. Students and others suffering from anxiety can utilize the ADAA to find anxiety support groups, find other resources for dealing with anxiety, and access blogs that allow them to get a better understanding of how to deal with anxiety while in college.
- Anxiety.org: Here, students with anxiety can get a better understanding of their diagnosis, educate themselves on the symptoms, find treatments, and enroll in online therapy. Anxiety.org also provides users with a quiz to take to help determine whether they have anxiety.
- Healthy Place: Healthy Place is a mental health website that advocates for those with mental illnesses. They have information regarding how to support those with anxiety, as well as advice for individuals suffering from suicidal thoughts as a result of anxiety.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a “developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior” (NIMH, 2020). Symptoms of autism vary based on severity, however, those with autism spectrum disorder often experience:
- Difficulty communicating and interacting with others;
- A habit for spending long periods of time talking passionately about one specific topic;
- Limited interests;
- Repetitive behaviors;
- The inability to talk or look people in the eye;
- Trouble understanding different points of view.
The following list represents a few resources available for college students on the spectrum.
- Autism Speaks: Autism Speaks is dedicated to helping individuals of all ages, along with parents, caretakers, and teachers, get a better understanding of what autism is. They provide individuals with many advocacy and support resources, as well as tips for those with autism in the post-secondary education step in their life.
- CIP Worldwide: CIP is a program that inspires independence for young adults with autism, ADHD, and other learning disabilities, in learning real-world skills needed to live happy and productive lives. They help individuals find jobs, succeed in college, and learn basic independent living skills.
- College Autism Network (CAN): The College Autism Network is a non-profit organization that focuses its time to improve access, experiences, and outcomes for college students with autism.
- Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) Program: This program is a partnership program that pairs individuals with autism with a Community Autism Peer Specialist to achieve their personal goals.
Mood disorders are a brain disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and they can impact how individuals react to life events. Also called “affective disorders,” this is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of conditions, including depression, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder, among many others.
The exact symptoms an individual experiences from a mood disorder will depend on the specific condition. Bipolar disorder, for example involves episodes of depression and mania. Individuals with bipolar disorder might show the following symptoms during a manic episode:
- Abnormally upbeat;
- Increased amounts of energy;
- Poor decision making;
- Racing thoughts;
- Unusual talkativeness.
On the other hand, an individual may exhibit the following symptoms during a depressive episode:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and irritability;
- A loss of interest or pleasure in most activities;
- Significant weight loss or gain;
- Decreased ability to focus or concentrate;
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Treatment can be key to managing mood disorders. Students diagnosed with bipolar or other mood disorders can consult the following resources:
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA): The DBSA has a mission to “provide hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.”
- International Bipolar Foundation: This foundation focuses on spreading awareness about bipolar disorder and provides education, resources, and support for those affected by the disorder.
- ULifeline: ULifeline is a website that students with various mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, can utilize to anonymously search for the information they need regarding their mental health.
When an individual has an eating disorder, this means they can be suffering from any of the following:
- Anorexia nervosa;
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder;
- Bulimia nervosa;
- Binge eating disorder;
- Rumination disorder.
There are many symptoms an individual with eating disorders may experience:
- Intense preoccupation with dieting, including “fad diets”;
- Body image distortion, as well as concerns about one’s appearance;
- Changes to social interactions, such as social isolation or discomfort eating around others;
- Signs of malnutrition;
- Substantial weight loss or gain;
- Sleep problems.
Students who have an eating disorder can use any of the following resources for help.
- Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED): ANRED is a website that offers various educational tools as to what anorexia and similar eating disorders are and how to recover from them.
- Bulimia Help: Bulimia Help provides users with free access to bulimia recovery checklists as well as coaching services and self-help books.
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): This resource provides free peer support services to anyone struggling with an eating disorder.
- National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): The NEDA is a non-profit organization that is “dedicated to supporting individuals and their families affected by eating disorders.” Those visiting the website have access to virtual support, educational tools, seminars, and treatment options.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder in which an individual experiences emotional and behavioral changes after a traumatic experience. This disorder is common amongst those in the military, however, it can occur in people of all ages who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Emotional numbness;
- Not being able to sleep in fear the traumatic event might happen again;
- Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares;
- Sensitivity to certain sounds and environments that remind individuals of the trauma.
Most young adults with PTSD will have already experienced at least one of these symptoms by the time they begin college (Pedrelli, 2015). Students can use the following resources to help them cope with PTSD.
- Center for Complicated Grief: The Center for Complicated Grief was created to help improve the lives of those who are suffering through a complicated grieving process.
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): The NCTSN offers various resources for individuals coping with PTSD. For example, they offer webinars, training modules (for those caring for an individual with PTSD), trauma toolkits, and more.
- PTSD United: PTSD is an organization that provides “support on men and women health, health disorders, male impotence, testosterone problems, PTSD, and more.” They provide various tips on improving the quality of daily life and physical and mental wellness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally…[and] may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling” (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
Resources for students with schizophrenia include:
- British Columbia Schizophrenia Society (BCSS): The BCSS is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting schizophrenic individuals and their families through various support groups, education seminars, and fundraisers.
- Help With Schizophrenia: The American Psychiatric Association created a resource for individuals who suffer from schizophrenia providing them with a guide on the illness and information on prevention, support, and treatments.
- Students With Psychosis: Students With Psychosis (SWP) “empower[s] student leaders and advocates living with psychosis worldwide through collaboration and community building.”
Although "stress" is not a disorder, it is a common occurrence for college students. Common signs of stress among college students include:
- Feeling overwhelmed;
- Lack of patience;
- Weight gain/loss.
Students suffering from stress can use the following resources.
- American Institute of Stress: The American Institute of Stress (AIS) provides individuals suffering from stress with various resources varying from what stress is, how to detect it, and how to manage it.
- Stress Less in 30 Seconds: Here are three steps students can follow to help reduce their stress in 30 seconds. These steps are easy to follow and can be done anywhere at any time.
Additional mental health resources for college students include:
- Crisis Text Line: A 24/7 crisis text line for individuals who need to connect with a counselor at any time of the day, any day of the week.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7 assistance for individuals who may have suicidal thoughts and need free and confidential support.
Achieving a state of overall wellness involves more than managing physical conditions or concerns; it also includes keeping social and emotional health in balance. One of the big roadblocks to maintaining emotional wellness is the stigma associated with mental health issues. However, it is vital that students be proactive in reaching out for help.
Students can begin their social and emotional wellness journey by reflecting on what their needs are both personally and socially. They can do this by asking themselves questions like “What part of my current social life would I like to improve?” or “What areas of my personal life do I currently enjoy?”
Although it may not seem like it during a time when someone feels like being alone, reaching out to friends and family is an important part of maintaining one’s mental health. Doing so can help individuals gain a better understanding of how to communicate their feelings effectively, set realistic expectations and goals, as well as embrace self-advocacy, which allows one to see the bigger picture, and provides them with the ability to become more flexible with daily tasks.
For some, building a better family relationship is a lot easier said than done. Here are resources to refer to when help is needed to establish, build, and maintain better relationships with loved ones.
- National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families: This resource is a branch of the Office of Family Assistance and is dedicated to integrating healthy marriage and relationship education to strengthen families and promote family self-sufficiency.
- The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project is a support center that offers a variety of resources on how to build healthy relationships, suicide prevention, and resources for the LGBTQIA+ community.
For individuals with mental illness, building relationships can make one happier in general and improve their academics — including the ability to succeed in online classes when attending school remotely.
The mind and body are connected; when a person is physically healthy it can help to ensure they are mentally healthy as well.
Even though college students have busy schedules, it is important they find the time to improve their physical wellbeing. This includes eating healthy, engaging in regular physical activity (even if it’s doing yoga at a desk), avoiding harmful substances, and practicing safe sex. Listed below are a few resources for students to help them maintain their physical health.
- It’s Your Sex Life: Created by MTV, It’s Your Sex Life is an award-winning public health campaign that supports young people in making responsible and educated decisions about their sexual health.
- SmokeFree.gov: SmokeFree.gov was created by the National Cancer Institute to “help you or someone you care about quit smoking.”
- Toxic Substance Portal: This is a comprehensive registry of toxic substances. It provides information on why the substance is harmful and how to avoid it.
Aside from looking both ways before crossing the street and locking doors and windows at night, there are various steps that can be taken to be safe as a student. Here are a few apps students can download to help ensure their safety on and off campus.
- bSafe: This application can be downloaded onto a mobile device and provides users with several features that allow them to feel safer including, for example, an SOS button, voice-activation mode (calls for help with just a voice), live streaming, and more.
- NoonLight: Users can download NoonLight onto their mobile device to help them feel safer when walking from point A to point B.
- SafeZone: This mobile app allows users to trigger emergency alerts and signal first responders all from the touch of a button.
Poor mental health could result in poor grades — poor grades could result in a lack of willpower and motivation to continue school. This is another reason why it is important to maintain mental health — because it can play a large role in how a person performs in school. Visiting campus counselors, learning studying strategies, and scheduling time with tutors are a few ways to utilize resources provided by a campus. Other resources that support academic learning include:
- EverNote: EverNote is a tool that students can use to take notes, organize, and manage their tasks.
- Mobile Flashcards: Created by Chegg, students can download the Mobile Flashcards app to help them study for upcoming tests whenever, wherever.
Maintaining mental health isn’t important just for students — in fact, it goes beyond college. Ways to continuously maintain mental health after college include finding a work environment that is accommodating to mental health needs (i.e. work schedule, support, and benefits), and not being afraid to get help looking for resources (government employment programs, vocational rehab services, college/alma mater programs, etc.). Here are tips to follow that may assist a person in improving their mental health and wellbeing after college.
- Consider going to therapy;
- Reach out to a college counselor to see what resources they have for post-graduation support;
- Stay active;
- Stay connected with college friends;
- Talk about feelings with a student’s family;
- Try new hobbies.
Maintaining mental health during these college years can help set the pace for how someone maintains their mental health for the rest of their life. Some may even find that interests in mental health go beyond an individual and may consider obtaining a degree in social science or industrial/organizational psychology. Whether it’s to succeed in school or help build new relationships, improving mental and physical well-being has its benefits both inside and out.
Autism Spectrum Disorder. (2020, November 10). NIMH. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
Juergens, J., & Hampton, D. (2020, September 17). Facts and Statistics of College Drug Abuse. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/college/facts-statistics-college-drug-abuse/
Mistler, B. J. M., Reetz, D. R. R., Krylowicz, B. K., & Barr, V. B. (2019, May 31). The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey. CMCGLobal.Com. http://files.cmcglobal.com/Monograph_2012_AUCCCD_Public.pdf
Pedrelli, P. P. (2015, October 1). College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations. Https://Www.Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov/Pmc/Articles/PMC4527955/. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4527955/
Schizophrenia - Symptoms and causes. (2020, January 7). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443