Mental Health Challenges College Students Face

College years are a time of significant change; whether you stay at or near home or attend a four-year university, the post-high school years are often a time of new experiences, unfamiliar responsibilities, growing pains, and learning curves. They can also be a time when some students must navigate their own physical and mental health for the first time without the support of their parents.

"College is a critical developmental time; the age of onset for lifetime mental health problems also coincides with traditional college years—75 percent of lifetime mental health problems will onset by age 24," says Sarah K. Lipson, assistant professor of health law, policy, and management at Boston University School of Public Health. She has studied college student mental health for more than ten years as part of the Healthy Minds Network, a national project she co-directs with researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.

This guide introduces the top five mental health issues confronting college students today, as well as tips on how to identify potential conditions and seek help.

1. Depression

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that causes you to feel constantly sad or uninterested in life.

Most people experience sadness or depression at times. It's a natural reaction to loss or life's difficulties. When intense sadness, including feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, lasts for several days to weeks and prevents you from living your life, it may be more than sadness. Clinical depression is a medical condition that can be treated.

Symptoms of Depression

You have depression if you have five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks, according to the DSM-5, a manual used by doctors to diagnose mental disorders:

  • Your mood is low for most of the day, especially in the morning.
  • Almost every day, you feel tired or lack energy.
  • Nearly every day, you feel worthless or guilty.
  • You are depressed or hopeless.
  • You have difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.
  • Almost every day, you can't sleep or sleep too much.
  • Every day, you have almost no interest or pleasure in many activities.
  • You have frequent thoughts about death or suicide (not just a fear of death).
  • You feel agitated or slowed down.
  • You've gained or lost weight.

How to Get Help with Depression

If you are suffering from depression while attending college, resources are available to assist you. On-campus colleges and universities have health centers where you can speak with a mental health professional. This is the most appropriate place to begin. These health centers may only offer a limited number of sessions, but they can refer you to other mental health professionals in your area.

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is the most commonly used treatment for depression. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants in addition to treatment.

2. Anxiety

Most college students experience anxiety on occasion. However, mounting or persistent feelings of worry, tension, and panic can disrupt daily life. Anxiety becomes a medical condition that requires treatment when it disrupts your everyday life.

Anxiety was identified as a leading student mental health condition by 61 percent of survey respondents in a 2016 Pennsylvania State University study. In the aforementioned Healthy Minds Study, one in every three students tested positive for an anxiety disorder.

Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety Disorder. These most common types of anxiety can be treated in our IOP treatment programs and PHP treatment programs.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Symptoms include a faster heart rate (hyperventilation), difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than the current worry, trouble sleeping, and gastrointestinal issues.

How to Cope With Anxiety

With the proper IOP treatment, you can recover. Some techniques that could assist with treatment are learning about anxiety, therapy, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, correct breathing techniques, and dietary adjustments.

3. Suicidal Ideation and Intent

Suicidal ideation is the desire to take one's own life or contemplate suicide. Suicidal ideation, on the other hand, is classified into two types: passive and active. Passive suicidal ideation occurs when you wish you were dead or could die but have no intention of committing suicide.

Active suicidal ideation, on the other hand, is more than just thinking about it; it also includes planning how to commit suicide.Suicidal ideation affects approximately 9% of the global population over a lifetime and about 2% over 12 months.

Signs of Suicidal Ideation in Yourself

Any of the following could be signs of suicidal ideation such as severe sadness or depression, mood swings, and sudden rage. Feeling deep hopelessness about the future, with little hope that things will improve. Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities are also signs of depression.

Suicide Prevention Tips

Suicide cannot be avoided entirely, but risks can often be reduced with timely intervention. According to research, the best way to prevent suicide is to be aware of the risk factors, look for signs of depression and other mental disorders, recognize the warning signs for suicide, and intervene before the person can complete the process of self-destruction.

4. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are severe conditions caused by repetitive eating behaviors that harm your health, emotions, and ability to function in critical areas of life. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorders are the most common eating disorders.

Most eating disorders involve an excessive focus on weight, body shape, and food, which leads to dangerous eating behaviors. These behaviors can significantly impact your body's ability to obtain adequate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth, and mouth and cause other diseases.

Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

  • Lips chapped and skin gray.
  • Malnutrition and dehydration cause fainting spells.
  • Loss of hair.
  • Menstrual cycles that are irregular or absent.
  • Sleep patterns have been disrupted.
  • Excessive exercise causes musculoskeletal injuries and pain.
  • Self-induced vomiting causes dental erosions.
  • Constipation, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and other gastrointestinal issues.
  • Significantly low blood pressure and pulse.
  • Upper respiratory infections are a risk.
  • Low power.
  • Poor overall health

How to Get Help With an Eating Disorder

If you or someone you care about exhibits one or more of the listed warning signs, you must take action. An eating disorder can quickly become uncontrollable. The treatment process can begin by contacting the individual's primary care physician and determining whether therapy or outpatient treatment would be beneficial.

5. Substance Misuse

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition characterized by uncontrolled substance use despite negative consequences. People suffering from SUD have an intense focus on using a specific substance(s), such as alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where their ability to function in daily life is impaired. People continue to use the substance even though they know it is causing or will cause problems. Addictions are sometimes used to describe the most severe SUDs.

Symptoms of Substance Misuse

Substance use disorder symptoms are classified into four categories:

  • Impaired control: a craving or strong urge to use the substance; a desire or failure to reduce or control substance use.
  • Substance abuse causes failure to complete major tasks at work, school, or home; social, work, or leisure activities are discontinued or reduced due to substance abuse.
  • Dangerous use: substance is used in hazardous situations; continued use despite known problems.
  • Tolerance (the need for higher doses to achieve the same effect); withdrawal symptoms (different for each substance).

How To Help Someone with Substance Misuse

The first step is to recognize the problem. The recovery process can be slowed when a person is unaware of problematic substance use. Although interventions by concerned friends and family members frequently result in treatment, self-referrals are always welcome and encouraged. A medical professional should formally assess symptoms to determine the presence of a substance use disorder. Therapy can help all patients, regardless of whether their condition is mild, moderate, or severe.