College comes with a lot of challenges. Imagine juggling all these at once: meeting deadlines, learning how to manage finances, school and living expenses, planning for your future, learning basic life skills, everything else in between, and more—of course, it can get overwhelming. Being in college puts you at high risk for developing mental health conditions, given the heaps of new responsibilities added to your plate.
College and Mental Health
According to a 2018 report, a significant majority of students felt “very sad,” and over 60 percent “felt overwhelming anxiety.” More than a third of first-year students worldwide also showed symptoms that align with known mental illness.
This shows how common student mental health issues can be, which is a good reason to educate yourself so you can identify and prevent different mental health issues from pestering your college life.
Why Finding Help Is Important
The human brain is an organ. It can have imbalances and illnesses like any other organ in the human body. And intuitively, when we are sick, we turn to treatments that will help us recover; otherwise, the sickness will take longer to go away than we would want it to or worsen over time.
Moreover, students who do not get treatment for mental health disorders are at high risk for certain consequences in the long run, such as unemployment, dropping out, and lower grade point averages. (United States Government Accountability Office, 2008)
Finding help not only as a college student but also as a young adult with potential is especially important for the sake of improving your well-being, your overall performance, and, most of all, your future.
But what happens when you get help? It’s pretty simple. We all know recovery and significant progress don’t come easy and don’t happen overnight, but that is where you are headed, and getting help is your first step toward that goal. Have faith in the process. You will thank yourself later.
Common Mental Health Issues Among College Students
Some of the common mental health issues college students face are depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition, with approximately 11.9% of college students suffering from it.
The symptoms, treatments, and approaches can vary for every disorder.
Depression may be described as overwhelmingly lethargic and sad, with no effective means to change such a gloomy outlook. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 36.4 percent, more than one-third of college students, reported being depressed.
Depression comes close to anxiety, the topmost concern among college students.
The common symptoms of college depression, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Fatigue and having little to no energy for small tasks
- Changes in appetite
- Persistent or recurring thoughts of suicide or dying
- Random aches and pains in your body
- Poor concentration
To get help for depression, check out these facilities and resources:
You can seek short-term or long-term counseling in health facilities or on campus. Counselors can prescribe helpful medication and therapy that many find effective. If your college is willing to refer students to mental health care providers, you can ask a school authority to do that for you.
In any case, if your condition gets worse, you may reach out to various helplines. These helplines may be reached via call or text. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that operates 24/7 at your disposal: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Anxiety in college is inevitable, especially when you are just starting. It may present in physical symptoms like fatigue and insomnia or be so severe that you get overwhelming feelings of uneasiness and impending doom or danger.
According to the 2018 fall report by the American College Health Association, an astounding 63 percent of US college students reported being overwhelmed with anxiety.
Anxiety manifests in various symptoms. If you have anxiety disorders, then you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Experiencing palpitations, muscle tension, and excessive sweating
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty getting quality sleep
- Being unreasonably irritable
- Frequent mind blocks
- Having uncontrollable feelings of worry
Here’s how to get help for anxiety:
Creating or joining a support group is a good way to connect, learn from other people’s experiences, and feel less isolated because of your condition. You may look up the searchable directory of the ADAA-Anxiety and Depression Association of America for support groups you could join.
Counselor or mental health professional
They can give you proper diagnoses, treatment, advice, or even prescribe medication if needed, all of which should help you navigate your condition better.
Many colleges provide free mental health services to help their students overcome mental health conditions like anxiety. Schools may also offer group, individual, in-person, or online counseling.
Among the many types of eating disorders, bulimia and anorexia are the most common. According to NEDA, or the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 0.3% to 0.4% of young ladies and 0.1% of young men will suffer from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders may develop when the need to control a stressful environment arises. And having such a stressful workload and schedule during college, combined with a desire to fit into certain beauty standards, you may start to fixate on your body image.
The telltale signs of an eating disorder include unusual or irregular eating patterns and habits. Again, there is a variety of eating disorders. But the most common symptoms are caused by restricting food intake into unhealthily small portions (anorexia), consuming large amounts of food within a very short period, or binge eating disorder, and then purging through induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and excessively exercising (bulimia).
If you have one of the two previously mentioned eating disorders, you may experience the following:
- Thinning or falling out of your hair
- Feeling unusually cold all the time
- Dry skin
- Mind fog and irritability
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Lying about eating and hiding or hoarding food
Here are ways to get help for eating disorders:
Eating disorders are very complicated, and more often than not, the best way to get help is to turn to professionals who specialize in this area or someone who knows how to deal with eating disorders. You may turn to psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, nutritionists, therapists, and social workers. If you find it hard to find someone on your own, you can visit this treatment search site to locate someone near you.
Fortunately, you can also seek help online. NEDA has accessible forums to help people with eating disorders regardless of their background. Remember to steer clear of forums and online communities that promote eating disorders, such as those labeled “pro-ana” or “pro-bulimia,” as they will only fuel your disorder more.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD experience strong reactions to a traumatic event. A Journal of American College Health study reveals that having PTSD can negatively affect performance in and out of school, and approximately 9 percent of college-aged students suffer from it.
While the symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, some of the most common ones include the following:
- Avoiding places and events that remind you of your trauma
- Reliving the event that caused your PTSD
- Overreacting to small things and details that remind you of your trauma
- Having heightened sensitivities
- Suffering from insomnia and having frequent nightmares
Get help for PTSD through the following:
Your college’s counseling center
Your college likely has counseling and health centers that offer services for various mental health issues, including PTSD. Visit your school’s counseling center to inquire about their services.
Support groups and organizations
The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance has a list of organizations with databases that can help you navigate your disorder and even walk you through joining or creating a support group. You may also visit the Mental Health America site, which offers access to support groups and online communities with people who have similar experiences of PTSD as yourself.
A tip on how to get help: To know how to solve your problem, you first need to acknowledge that you may have a problem in the first place and then identify the problem. Do some research, observe your symptoms, and consult a mental health professional. You may also confide in someone you trust; they might be able to help you realize your problem.
What’s Stopping Sufferers from Getting Help—and How to Overcome Them
Unlike what the media says about getting help being easy to receive or ask for and the notion that help is often always accessible, this is not always the case. There are barriers that people, most especially college students, face from time to time when it comes to receiving help.
Fortunately, if you face any of these barriers, you can always overcome them through self-assessment and taking the initiative to make a few changes.
Barrier: Lack of time.
An average day for college students begins at 6 AM and ends past 10 PM. This demanding and hectic schedule is relatively comparable to that of corporate executives, leaving many with barely any time to take care of themselves.
Time may be too scarce to give attention to other important things outside of academic and work obligations, let alone to consider seeking help. The daily rigors of college life also make it easy to overlook warning signs about the current state of your health.
How to overcome it:
- Work on having better time management. Find ways to boost your productivity and get things done more efficiently, especially in unconventional situations (suffering from a physical disability, fulfilling family obligations, having ADHD, etc.). This way, you will be able to take on so much more, feel less overwhelmed with your workload, and, most importantly, have enough time to keep your mental health in constant check and seek help as needed.
- Know and set your priorities, and put your mental health on top of the list. What mind will you work with if you don’t take care of it? Knowing your priorities will help you identify the things that can wait and what things can’t wait. Putting your well-being first by treating it as something that “can’t wait” is one surefire way to stop yourself from automatically refusing or delaying asking for help.
Barrier: Not acknowledging that you have a problem.
Recognizing that you need help is the first and often the hardest step to take when getting help. It takes great courage, accountability, and self-awareness to accept that you have a problem and that something must be done about it.
How to overcome it:
Learn to take accountability and accept that it is normal for everyone, including yourself, to have a problem. This may be hard to do when you are still in denial despite your symptoms, but the sooner you come to terms with the fact that there is a problem, the sooner you will be able to accept the help you need.
The world is becoming increasingly open about the topic of mental health issues. And yet, stigma is still a problem often seen today. Stigmatization stems from a lack of education, misconceptions, and false beliefs, which discourage people from coming into the light and asking for help because of the fear of getting judged, isolated, and even the possibility of persecution.
How to overcome it:
- Educate yourself to debunk misconceptions and myths about mental health. Understand mental health problems—especially your own—from a more knowledgeable and sympathetic perspective.
- Read more about mental health issues. Visit your school’s mental health resources. Literacy about mental health opens minds about mental issues and disorders, how common they are, why they are a natural part of life, and why they are not something anyone should be ashamed of. As a result, it encourages a healthy mindset toward mental health.
- Understand, instead of vilifying mental health crises and people who have them. Two common misconceptions lead to this vilification: first, people assume having a mental health disorder automatically means “insane,” and second, it’s someone’s fault when they’re depressed. While people should be held accountable for their conscious decisions, know that they are not always to be blamed for being sick. Keep in mind that outside factors are difficult to control or cannot be controlled at all, such as genetics and environment.
Barrier: Preference for self-management
Understandably, some prefer to handle things by themselves for various reasons. It could be for fear of judgment, inability to afford therapy, or not having the luxury of being conveniently situated to receive help in general.
Some may also believe that they will be able to handle their situation better on their own. This could be true for several people; however, many mental disorders and symptoms like debilitating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are extremely difficult to navigate alone and require the attention of mental health professionals.
How to overcome it:
- Recognize and avoid unhealthy self-medication. Another reason some people prefer to medicate self- and deal with things themselves is that they’ve found unhealthy coping mechanisms they enjoy; substance abuse, self-harm, engaging in risky behaviors, binge eating, and the like. Steer clear from these as they can and will cause worse problems in the long run.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help with serious issues, regardless of how much you prefer to handle them yourself. Self-manage if you must, but never limit yourself from getting help.
Barrier: Not believing that you need treatment
This could be due to two reasons: either you aren’t sure if you have serious problems and are oblivious to how it’s affecting you, or you believe that the problem will go away on its own. Either way, if you don’t think you need treatment, then you’re less likely to reach out for help and also less likely to receive the help that you need.
How to overcome it:
If you are still doubtful that you need treatment, assess your current situation and look at the problems you are dealing with. Is it bearable on your own? Are you struggling? Are you experiencing symptoms or problems that are in any way unusual or debilitating? And lastly, is it possible that you are downplaying your struggles?
If you said yes to any or all of these questions, you could benefit from treatment for your mental health concerns. You can also turn to self-help and outside help:
Self-care or self-help, by far, is the most accessible kind of help you can get or give yourself; rather. This is especially beneficial for those who find it hard to reach out for help. Engaging in self-help habits and behaviors and identifying which suits your unique situation best is a good way to move towards recovery from mental health challenges, thereby fostering a healthy mind and a happy life.
Self-help may include taking care of your physical health:
Getting enough sleep. Enough sleep decreases the likelihood of depressive disorders and helps regulate hormones that affect anxiety, stress, and hunger by facilitating the brain’s process of retaining and regulating information.
Getting adequate nutrition. The food we consume affects our brain’s processes via the gut-brain axis, which backs up the saying: You are what you eat. So if you eat healthily, then you are healthy. Studies have shown that eating less sugar and processed foods has improved both mental and physical health and that nutritious food rich in vitamins helps produce and regulate hormones in the brain.
Getting enough physical activity. Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine offers many benefits: it can help improve sleep quality, become a healthy coping mechanism or outlet for your frustrations, release endorphins that improve your mood by alleviating stress and depression, and more.
Self-help also entails identifying self-destructive and counterproductive behaviors and working on changing them:
- Confronting your addictions
- Fighting substance abuse
- Refraining from isolation
- Identifying unhealthy coping mechanisms and replacing them with better ones
- Swapping unhealthy comfort food for healthy food options.
- Keeping your impulsive spending under control
- Setting a healthy sleep schedule instead of over or undersleeping
- Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness
- Doing mindfulness exercises
- Practicing accountability
- Keeping in touch with your body and your environment
Outside help, as the name suggests, is help you get from other people who have the capacity to alleviate or address your mental health challenges. This type of mental health support may be in the form of advice and support from your friends and family or professional medical advice. Getting outside help is a great way to gain fresh perspectives and proper guidance and support toward recovery and improvement.
You may get help from:
- Licensed mental health professionals. Mental health professionals who specialize in certain mental disorders can provide foolproof diagnoses and treatments at your disposal.
- Hotlines and helplines. These services are usually all free and are conveniently accessible for you via call and text.
- Your school’s guidance counselor. Most, if not all, college campuses have a guidance counselor to support students in dealing with their mental health crises.
- Free resources and counseling programs in either your campus or locality.
- Online therapy. Following your mental health diagnosis, online therapy is a convenient way to get treatment. You also have the option to go for either paid or free online counseling services, whichever suits your needs best.
Suicidal Thoughts: A Serious Mental Health Issue
Suicidal ideation and behavior commonly go hand in hand with many mental illnesses. As a serious form of college mental health crisis, Suicidal thinking is unlikely to go away without help, so it is important to reach out.
If you are contemplating suicide or think you might hurt yourself, know that you are not hopeless and alone, and you can get help immediately:
- Call a close friend or a loved one.
- Call your therapist or mental specialist who has you under their care.
- Dial 911 or your local emergency number.
- Contact a suicide hotline. Look up suicide hotlines if you happen not to know any.
- Contact 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7.
- Talk to someone in the Lifeline Chat. Services are all free and confidential.
- Talk to someone in your faith community; a pastor, minister, or even a friend who shares the same beliefs.
The second highest cause of death in college is suicide, the National Survey on Drug Use & Health indicate, with approximately 1,100 college campus incidents every year. A striking 25 percent know of someone who has committed suicide, and approximately 8.8 percent of 18-25-year-olds in the US adult population have reported seriously considering suicide.
Bear in mind that common as they may be, you can always find help with mental health issues in college! Be aware of all the mental health resources and mental health treatment services available to you and anyone you may know.