While the college years are often hailed as the best years of one’s life, increasing numbers of college students are struggling with their mental health. During their years at college, students face a number of challenges, including heavy course loads, increasing demands to be involved in extracurriculars, a need to hold one or more jobs to support themselves, homelessness, food insecurity, sleeplessness, and substance abuse.

On campuses across the nation, college counseling centers are fighting to keep up with the needs of students. As the number of students facing mental health issues continues to grow, it becomes clear that the mental health field is facing an epidemic.

What Are the Statistics of College Mental Health Issues? 

In a survey of college mental health counseling directors, 70% believe that there has been a significant increase in the number of students living with serious psychological conditions in the past few years. Of these directors, 19% have said that their campus’ mental health counseling services are inadequate for the needs of their students.

Directors also reported that 21% of students seen in counseling centers exhibit severe mental health conditions, while another 40% presented milder mental health concerns.

Anxiety is the most commonly reported mental health issue among students (41.6%), followed by depression (36.4%), and relationship problems (35.8%). Approximately 24.5% of students seen by counselors on campus are taking psychotropic medications.

What Causes College Students to Struggle with Mental Health? 

We know students are struggling, but just what is causing this epidemic of poor mental health on college campuses and what can we do to help them? 

In addition to the stress of school itself, students also are faced with incredible financial upheaval and burdens. The cost of college education and living expenses have skyrocketed, while wages have remained low and financial aid hasn’t grown with students’ needs. Many college students are taking on thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in debt to complete their degree, knowing that, in the end, they will most likely struggle to find a job in an oversaturated job market. Because of the costs of going to college and students’ time restrictions, many students are going hungry or are homeless.

There is also significant pressure on college students to avoid mistakes and prepare for a successful future, especially from their families, who may see only one path to a good future. Maintaining extracurricular activities, keeping grades up, pursuing research opportunities, filling out their CV, and trying to also maintain their physical, emotional, and mental health can be taxing. Too many students put off their own wellbeing during school, and some, unfortunately, don’t seek help until their mental health has greatly deteriorated.

With so many students struggling with their mental health, it’s incredibly important to have resources in place to support them, including counseling and psychiatric care. Unfortunately, though, most campuses aren’t able to offer enough services to meet the needs of their students, so many students go without help.

How Can We Prevent the Issue? 

The mental health crises faced by college students is part of a much more widespread problem. Mental illness is on the rise in the U.S., due to several factors, many of which are beyond our immediate control. Preventing mental illness can be addressed on an individual level, but it is also necessary to recognize social, economic, and healthcare challenges that contribute to people’s mental health struggles.

Providing a better support system for students is one way that schools can help ease the effects of the mental health epidemic on campuses. Increasing the counseling services offered, widely advertising their availability, and removing potential obstacles that can stop students from getting care may help more students get treatment or use mental health services as preventative care.

Schools also can focus on providing mental health screenings to students to detect issues early, as well as encouraging students to learn how to manage stress, build resilience, and care for their own wellbeing. Teaching self-care as an essential part of a healthy college experience can help students immensely.

What Can Parents Do to Help? 

We know that growing up is hard, and so is letting go. Parents also need to adjust to their adult child moving out, going away to school, or even just taking on an increased workload as they attend college locally. Providing support without taking away your child’s autonomy and independence is a balancing act but finding the balance can help support your child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Your student may look to you for advice, or they may choose their own path. Either way, mistakes can occur, and as a parent, you can help your child by allowing them to make mistakes and being there to help them handle the aftermath. Your relationship with your child may change and take on new forms as they grow into adulthood and discover their own independence—embracing these changes can help your student’s future.

As a parent, you also are likely familiar with your student’s personality and mental health and are in a position to recognize when they are struggling. Your student may not recognize that they need help, but you may see alarming changes that signal the possibility that your student is facing mental health concerns. If you notice changes in your student’s behavior or speech, you should encourage them to seek counseling services or speak with a doctor about it.

The earlier a mental health condition is noticed and treated, the better. Noticing your student’s mental health and advocating for their needs can save a life.

Finding Help for Students

Going to college is challenging enough without battling mental illness. If you are a student who feels they need support, or a parent looking for a way to help their student get care, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health is here for you. We offer personalized mental health treatment in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Our highly trained and compassionate team is prepared to join you on your journey to wellness.

Have questions? Contact our office today.

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin combines his years of experience in behavioral health with a mission to innovate treatment methods and processes for mental health and substance abuse. Sam not only brings to the table his successful career owning and managing successful treatment facilities around the country but his dedication to creating an environment for healing. Sam obtained his Masters in Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University.