At a time in their lives when they are faced with numerous unfamiliar responsibilities and unparalleled levels of stress, students in college are at an increased risk to struggle with common mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. In fact, recent statistics indicate that as many as three of every five college students struggle with some form of mental health concern. Not only do students, faculty, and parents need to be aware of the manifestation of mental illness in college students, but each group also needs to do its part to help mediate these issues.
Recognizing Mental Health in College Students
While the college experience is new and exciting for many students, it is also a time that can be riddled with unknown. The evolution that many young adults undergo during this period presents challenges to the emotional health and well-being of these individuals. College students with healthy mental states are likely to exhibit:
• Appropriate life skills, including problem-solving and decision making
• Effective coping mechanisms and an ability to seek help as needed
• Suitable social connectedness, including friendships and relationships
These skills and qualities are important as they support success both on a college campus and in life. However, many individuals, particularly those who are more predisposed to a mental health issues, have not developed these abilities, leaving them even more at risk.
Common Mental Health Issues on College Campuses
A number of mental health concerns are present on today’s college campuses; however, there are roughly five that are most common among this cultural subset, in large part due to the new stresses and responsibilities college students face.
A common but serious condition, depression is characterized by a feeling of melancholy or hopelessness and detachment from others. If left unmanaged, it can make it difficult for those struggling with the disorder to complete daily tasks, such as studying, sleeping, and even eating.
Most people experience some level of stress or anxiety as a normal part of everyday life. However, when anxiety interferes with an individual’s ability to function and alters one’s daily life, an anxiety disorder may be to blame. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. alone and are the most common mental illness.
3. Eating Disorder
Many individuals who struggle with eating disorders do not even know they have a problem. These mental health issues involve excessive behaviors, emotions, and attitudes centering on food and/or weight perceptions. If left untreated, eating disorders can contribute to serious mental and physical health issues and may even become fatal.
4. Substance Abuse
College is a time of experimentation for students, which often includes the exploration of drugs and alcohol. While alcohol and/or drug use for some may be considered a social custom, it can quickly become an issue of substance abuse or even addition for others. Even for individuals who do not meet the criteria for substance abuse, many students engage in unsafe practices, such as binge drinking, and report having had academic or social issues related to their drinking habits.
The physical act of taking one’s life, suicide impacts not just the victim, but also his or her friends and family as well as the entire campus community. Suicide is typically the result of an individual experiencing feelings of unresolved guilt, despair, and hopelessness that are linked to the student’s inability to cope with stress.
Evaluating Mental Health and Getting Help
The most effective way to identify potential mental health issues is observation. Individuals experiencing emotional challenges are likely to exhibit changes in mood, behavior, speech, social activity, and academic engagement, even if only slight. While an individual may or may not recognize that he or she has a problem, most individuals with a mental health issue are unlikely to seek help, which is why it is vital for parents, faculty, and peers to be aware and initiate support.
For some individuals help may come in the form of seeking counsel and developing coping strategies. In some cases, though, a change of location or even transferring to a school where laptops are provided for students may be beneficial. The bottom line is that mental illness is on the rise on college campuses and students need effective support.