Heading to college is an exciting and unique period in a young adult’s development. The college years are marked by a new sense of freedom, growing independence, further identification of personal values and the start of those first tentative steps towards the people we want to be and the lives we want to lead. Yet navigating the transition to college life can be jarring. College, especially the first few years, is a time of increased vulnerability. For many students, it is their first experience away from their support networks of family and lifelong friends. The college environment places many new demands on students and navigating changing routines, complex class schedules and intense pressure to achieve social and academic success causes many students to struggle. These challenges are compounded by the fact that it is during this age group that symptoms of mental illness can first emerge. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 young adults live with a mental health condition; 50% will develop a condition by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
Mental Health on Campus: The Numbers
80% of students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities
50% of students have felt overwhelming anxiety that caused them to struggle academically
31% of students have experienced depression that caused significant impairment in functioning
25% of students have a diagnosable mental illness
40% of students do not seek treatment
(Data by NAMI)
NAMI video to embed or link to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSn_C1l0oWI
Feeling isolated, social pressures, academic challenges, financial strain, experimenting with drugs and alcohol and the emergence of mental illness can eventually build to a point of crisis. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list suicide as the second leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds and roughly 1,100 college students kill themselves each year. While suicide is the most extreme outcome of illness and school-based stress, a larger percentage of students struggle in ways that are harder to see. Students who are struggling to succeed in school often feel a profound sense shame and embarrassment that they are not living up to their own expectations of what they imagined their college experience would be. They may also be fearful of stigma or of disappointing friends and family, preventing them getting help they desperately need. Without support, students may flunk out of school or need to take an extended leave of absence. According to data from NAMI, 45% of students who withdrew from school did not receive any academic accommodations and 50% did not access any mental health services.
The good news is that with the right clinical interventions, mental health conditions are highly treatable. The three most common conditions among college students—depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder—have many evidence-based therapy methods and treatments that are well documented in scientific literature. Colleges across the country have responded to the growing needs of students by expanding mental health counseling services and suicide awareness and prevention programs. However, the need for comprehensive mental health services for students continues to grow. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCM) there was a 50% increase in college students who sought mental health counseling services between 2015 and 2016. As students with complex mental health needs continue to flood campus clinics, many schools are still only able to offer short-term services, or a limited number of sessions. Students may also encounter wait lists of several weeks--and smaller schools or community colleges may have limited mental health resources, or no resources at all. Students and concerned parents may need to seek resources and mental health professionals in surrounding communities.
Important aspects of effective treatment include:
Building self-awareness and attention to thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms
Developing tools and skills to manage intense emotions and feelings of distress
Expanding support systems to include both informal (friends, family, faith-based communities) and formal (psychiatrist, therapist, group treatment) supports
Identifying healthy habits and self-care routines that include regular eating, sleeping and activity schedules (often the first things to go during the college transition)
Creating safety plans for crisis situations that include coping skills, safe places to go, supportive people to reach out to and information on emergency services
Prevention is always preferable to crisis intervention. Mental health services are not just for when things are at their worst, but also provide a space for us to realize our full sense of potential as we move toward lives of greater efficiency, creativity and meaning. Mental health services can not only save lives, but can serve as a critical tool in helping students find success both in and outside of the classroom.
Daniel works with adults of all genders, identities, and ethnicities to treat depression, anxiety, personality disorders, relational difficulties, life transitions, and identity development. He uses a variety of approaches including CBT, ACT, and strengths-based. Daniel specializes in treating college-aged clients. For additional information or to schedule a consultation he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org