What Can College Students Do to Improve Their Mental Health?

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Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: April 1, 2024, Reading time: 20 minutes

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For young adults, college is a time of self-discovery and learning. However, this is also the very period where some suffer emotional instability. When left uncared for, this can pose serious physical consequences. 

Mental Health in College fact 1

In 2019, the American College Health Association stated that over the past year, 87 percent of college students claimed they felt very depressed and that it was extremely difficult for them to function. 66% said their anxiety was overwhelming, 56% were hopeless, and 13% were seriously contemplating suicide.

Some of the contributing factors include traumatic and distressing issues during college, like assaults and bullying, in addition to the pressure of dealing with one’s academic demands. 

However, a student’s present college experience is not the only known factor. Some students already have preexisting mental health concerns even before they go to college. Around 80% of college students had, at some point, thought about it before they entered college.

No matter how fulfilling and rewarding the whole college life may be, students need to endure the many struggles that go along with it. 

Sadly, not everyone is mentally strong enough to deal with the pressure of college life. Many college students have to go through several mental health challenges and eventually find themselves at the point of losing it.

To keep that from happening, here are some of the most common mental health challenges that you will face as a college student and some proactive ways you can overcome them.


The Oxford Dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of nervousness, worry, and unease about something with an uncertain outcome.” Of course, everybody feels this way at some point. This is relatively normal until anxiety starts to overcome your mental health.

Once it starts to dominate your state of mind, this can be very dangerous. Because of an abrupt lifestyle change, a handful of responsibilities, or never-ending school projects and tasks, college students may often end up feeling anxious in its worst form. 

The most common signs of anxiety include:

You can deal with anxiety in two ways, depending on how far it has come.


Once in a while, it’s okay to feel disappointed, sad, anxious, or a mix of these emotions. These are natural emotions that manifest when you have a bad day, when you are in an emotional period of your life, or when something unexpected happens. 

But the moment these emotions last longer and start to influence your daily life greatly, you might end up feeling depressed. Among college students, depression incidence rates are normally 7-9%.

The symptoms of college depression are:

Depression is an extremely serious mental condition that should be treated by professionals. In case you have these signs above, there’s no need to panic.

However, it helps to immediately seek the help of professionals so you can overcome depression quickly. Go to your doctor and discuss your problem. He should be able to walk you through the whole process of dealing with this mental concern. 

Sleeping Disorders

If you think sleeping disorders are nothing more than just minor lifestyle practice concerns, think again. Sleep disorders, also called insomnia, are a serious concern that damage your physical health and your mental status.

Sleeping disorders can cause:

According to the Harvard Medical School, 40 percent of college students in the US get enough rest only twice per week, while only 11% get ample sleep. These figures are indeed alarming. So many college students are struggling with sleeping disorders. 

What are the causes of sleeping disorders? 

To overcome insomnia, you should learn how to take control of thoughts and emotions. You have to target living a healthier lifestyle. Other ways to help you with your insomnia bouts include:

While dealing with insomnia greatly relies on how determined you are to deal with it, there are still possibilities of you failing to succeed. It’s wise to seek professional help. Never ignore your sleeping disorder because it will not easily go away.

Eating Disorders

The National Eating Disorders Association asserts that eating disorders hold the highest mortality rates of all types of psychiatric illnesses. Because of peer pressure, drastic lifestyle changes, and other mental health issues, college students sometimes risk developing several forms of eating disorders. The most severe forms include:

Eating disorders pose immense health risks and consequences like:

Eating disorders cause your overall health to deteriorate severely! If you notice these symptoms or you know someone showing them, never hesitate to seek help. Early detection of the disorders can do a lot. Talk to your doctor or get in touch with your school’s helpline.

The moment you realize an eating disorder is starting to eat you, start fighting it. Understanding the ways to overcome them is very important.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Mental Health in College: What the Schools Can Do

Because of the staggering increase of college students with mental health concerns, some colleges add counseling staff to meet the growing demands for counseling centers. However, this might still be not enough. Students should find other alternate means other than on-campus counseling centers.

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That is why schools should take a more proactive approach to equip their students with the right practices in dealing with their mental health issues. Through this approach, fewer students will likely need immediate crisis services, and those who need them can get them sooner. 

To help improve college students’ general mental health, here are some of the major areas that colleges should focus on.

10 Mental Health Tips for College Students for Focus and Productivity

While you are in college, taking care of your mental health as you work your way toward earning a degree is essential. That way, you can accomplish your school responsibilities in school. Ignoring your mental health can cause several issues that may result in derailing your focus, productivity, and total performance in school.

Here are ten of the most helpful tips you should practice to keep your mental health at bay while in university. 

1. Get enough sleep.

Enough sleep enables your brain to assist your body in healing itself from the daily stressors in college. Because of too many activities for so little time, most college students fail to get the ideal 8-hour-per-night sleep.

Without enough rest, it results in feeling worn out, tired, and overwhelmed. Understand that without enough sleep, your body won’t be able to produce dopamine, serotonin, and other helpful chemicals that keep anxiety, depression, and stress away. 

To get the recommended daily sleep, make sure all your devices are turned off. The energy and light that comes from your television, computer, or phone triggers your mind to stay awake. 

2. Surround yourself with and build a support network.

Any college student should have a solid support network. The confusion, the stress, the overwhelming academic, and the workload will eventually wear you out over time. Thus, it’s best to have a strong support system that includes family members, friends, professors, resident advisors, counselors, and anybody else that you know can help you succeed in college.

Ideally, assign a role for each person in your network. For instance, call your friend for some friendly talk after you had a bad afternoon in class, call your mom to hear her soothing voice over the phone every time you’re homesick, or even send an email to your college professor when you feel overwhelmed with never-ending assignments. 

3. Stay away from alcohol and drugs.

So many college students believe that college is all about partying. And with these college parties, it’s safe to assume drugs and alcohol will always come into the picture. However, you can have fun at a college party sans the use of alcohol and drugs.

You don’t have to have these substances to have a good time and meet new friends. These are not needed to relax. 

Alcohol and drugs, in reality, keep you from achieving a relaxed state. Instead, these substances create and do not solve problems. The negative outcomes can last for days. When you stay away from these substances, you can prevent hangovers. No hangovers mean no tardiness (or even absences) in class, no sleeping problems, and no worries.

You can find so many sober activities inside the campus. Some schools even have peer mentors and sober groups if you need their help to avoid joining party scenes. 

4. Get in touch with a campus counselor.

Some students may find it awkward to check in with their school counselor, but this tip is a game-changer. Over the years, counseling has always been a very sensitive topic. It was used to create a stigma that doesn’t sit well, especially among young college teens.

Thankfully, college students are starting to recognize its many benefits, and the public shame has gradually reduced. 

When you meet with your campus counselor or any counselor within your community, you learn a lot about stress management techniques. You will learn to manage your mental health issues triggered by certain situations, such as keeping calm before an exam.

The best part about counseling is that you are provided with a set time just for you. During the allotted period, you can air your gripes to someone who will listen and protect your confidentiality. A counselor provides you with objective advice and walks you through proper goal-setting and time management.

5. Be active.

The more you exercise, the happier your mood gets. When you are physically active, your body releases ‘happy hormones” like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. These chemicals have long been proven to suppress pain, boost your mood, and give you a rewarding feeling.

While busy with your college life, always find time to stick to an exercise routine. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekly trip to the gym or a thirty-minute daily walk. The goal is to exercise. Not only will this help improve your mood, but also, getting active helps you to get better sleep, more energy, and a sharper concentration. 

6. Eat healthily.

What you put in your body generally affects your mood. The chemicals that regulate your mood, like anger, happiness, depression, and anxiety, live both in your body and brain. This means the healthier your food intake is, the better regulated your mood becomes. As a result, your body will release the necessary chemicals to make you feel good. 

7. Quiet your mind.

Meditation is a very effective way to deal with mental stress. Mindfulness and relaxation exercises help you improve your outlook on life and state of mind. Research has proven how meditation can help you enhance your mind and make you feel calm.

8. Learn to value yourself.

No matter the stress, the pressure, the confusion, and all the challenging things you encounter during college, always value yourself. Treat yourself with respect, kindness, and time, making sure not to criticize yourself if you don’t meet what is expected of you. 

Find the time for your hobbies, start a garden, finish your crossword puzzle, or learn a new language. You have an endless list of positive distractions from your college woes!

9. Practice dealing with stress.

Whether you like it or not, stress is a part of our daily lives. While you cannot avoid it generally, you can practice coping mechanisms. Exercise, take one-minute stress strategies, go for a nature walk, do some Tai Chi, write a journal, or even play with a pet.

There is so much more to your college journey than stressing over missed deadlines. Always remember to smile and find the good in everything.

10. Reward yourself.

Reaching the goals you set, recognizing your true worth and value, and accomplishing even the most difficult tasks are just some of the many things you are doing a perfectly good job.

Buying yourself good stuff, playing a video game you really enjoy, or patting yourself on the back after challenging work is a very healthy way to help you loosen up.

When you reward yourself, you validate that you have done something good and that you deserve such a reward. Feeling confident and proud even of your progress helps you feel more energized and determined to go on with the tough journey of college life. 

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Understanding Depression and College Students: Knowing the Early Signs

The National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC) says that depression is the number one cause of disability in Americans between ages 15 and 44. This mental disorder has affected almost 7% of the total US population. Apart from the negative effects on an individual, depression and other mental health issues may result in billions of dollars in losses to the economy annually. 

During college, anxiety and stress are very rampant. So how will college students tell when what they are going through are signs of something more? Here are signs that you are experiencing depression.

Getting Help for Depression and other Mental Health Issues in College

The National Alliance on Mental Health said that while 73% of college students have experienced mental health issues on campus, around 34% of these reported that their college was not aware of it.

Many students suffering from depression don’t know where to seek help. Neither are they aware of how they can manage their symptoms. Thankfully, you can find different resources both on and off campus that can help. 

Where to Get Help OFF-CAMPUS

Where to Get Help ON-CAMPUS

Treatments for Depression

When talking about treating depression, there are numerous avenues for that. All of these have to be thoroughly discussed with a professional before you take any action. Here are the most common ones:

What Can Colleges Do to Address Mental Health Issues among College Students? 

Most universities and colleges today understand how depression affects many students. Many of them are taking steps to create programs and plans designed for students going through mental health issues. Below are some proactive ways colleges are making to help fight student depression.

School Spotlight

depression - consultation college male student

Here is a list of the colleges and universities that have received the JedCampus Seal of Distinction from the Jed Foundation. These schools are duly recognized because of their outstanding services for mental health. 

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues have increasingly become prevalent among college students these days.

Most students even say their mental health problems are among the biggest barriers to performing well in school. It is then critical for colleges to provide the needed resources to help students deal with the challenges that go with college life.