College students today face more stress than ever before. Depression, anxiety, social media, and trauma are all factors that have led to a serious mental health crisis among American college students.
Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts are rising exponentially. A worsening student debt crisis and economic struggles have placed added baggage on young graduates. Each of these factors contributes to an environment that is difficult to navigate for today’s young people.
The Mental Health Crisis for College Students
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought these issues to a dangerous head in 2020. Students are dealing with increased time at home, the lack of activities on campus, adjustment to online learning, and more. The uncertainty itself takes a toll, and this year has proven to be uncertain, to say the least.
Many of this year’s freshman class did not have in-person graduation (due to Covid protocols), a “Welcome Week,” or even the chance to say goodbye to friends. These difficulties add to the already full plate of today’s college students.
Thankfully, there are also more resources available than ever before. Many college campuses now provide counseling services for students at no or reduced cost. More insurance providers are covering mental health care than ever before. There are many safe and healthy medication options for young people, and the stigma of the mental health conversation is being lifted.
Common Mental Health Issues for College Students
Only recently has the stigma around mental health begun to lift in our society. For much of modern time, this topic has been ignored, downplayed, or swept under the rug. Over the last 100 years, college life was exponentially more difficult for those students struggling with mental health issues. Thankfully, modern colleges and universities have many options and accommodations available to help combat these difficulties.
Still, challenges remain, and college students today face growing rates of multiple mental health concerns. Below are some descriptors of a few of the most common issues facing college students today.
Also known as Major Depressive Disorder, depression is a common mental illness that causes feelings of loneliness, sadness, and lethargy. Studies show that as many as 33% of today’s college students struggle with some form of depression. For many students, this depression also leads to increased anxiety and social isolation.
The cause of depression is not entirely understood, but researchers believe brain chemistry, hormone imbalances, and heredity all may play a role. Other major depressive disorders fall under this umbrella as well, such as bipolar disorder.
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, and while some are less severe, all can affect a student’s ability to succeed in college. Studies show that anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder among college students, with as many as 42% of students suffering.
Anxiety manifests itself through symptoms such as excessive worry, social isolation, sweating, and sleep issues. These symptoms, if left unchecked, can seriously alter one’s ability to function in many life situations. Researchers attribute anxiety disorders to traumatic life events, changing brain chemistry, and genetics.
Although societal stigmas may portray eating disorders as lifestyle choices, the reality is that most are documented psychiatric illnesses that can be extremely dangerous or even fatal if left untreated. Eating disorders result from distorted perceptions of body image coupled with obsessive behavior involving food.
Bulimia (cycles of binging and purging) and Anorexia (extreme distortion of body image that leads to severe weight loss) are the two most common examples of eating disorders among college students. Approximately 15% of college-aged women struggle with some form of an eating disorder, while around 5% of men do as well. Many factors can contribute to the development of an eating disorder; some of these include irregular hormones, genetics, body dysmorphia, peer pressure, stress, and trauma.
College students who struggle with bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive disorder) may experience dramatic mood swings, changes in energy levels, and the ability to follow social norms. There are several different types of bipolar disorders ranging from mild to severe.
Individuals with bipolar disorder may exhibit extreme highs and lows that last from a few minutes to days or weeks at a time. Behavior during “highs” may range from “normal” to seemingly manic, whereas “lows” may range from minor sadness to complete incapacitation.
Exact numbers on how many college students are affected by bipolar disorder are unavailable, but research shows the median age is 25, meaning that symptoms will often develop during the college years.
Causes of bipolar disorder are still being researched, but scientists believe it’s due to a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and individual brain function.
Suicide and Self-Harm Among College Students
Suicide is a complex and sensitive public health issue. Although it is a difficult issue to address, the stigma around ideation and mental health conversations is lifting in recent years. Studies show that as many as 90% of suicide victims have a diagnosable mental health condition.
It is possible for people to have multiple mental health conditions that occurr at the same time, such as bipolar disorder and depression. It is important to note that these illnesses are treatable, and people suffering from them do get better. Many treatment options are available, and there have been several recent advances in treating and understanding suicide.
Before beginning treatment, it is important to notice the warning signs of suicidal ideation:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Tying up “loose ends” such as giving away possessions and money
- Looking into or discussing suicide or dying
- Unusually reckless or unsafe behavior
- Noticeable increase in irritability and/or aggression
- Constant expression of depression, hopelessness, and/or sadness
- No longer participating in activities or hobbies that used to bring enjoyment
- Experiencing extreme mood swings
- A drastic change in sleeping habits
Self-harm, while seemingly similar to suicide, is its own arena of mental health issues. Unlike a suicide attempt, self-injury typically isn’t used as a means of ending one’s life but rather as a way of causing self-harm-often to punish oneself or “feel something.”
Common forms of self-injury include cutting, burning, or otherwise mutilating the surface of the body. The main causes leading to self-injury include an inability to cope with psychological pain in healthy ways or having trouble regulating and expressing emotions.
ADHD and College Students
ADHD is a common medical condition characterized by differences in brain development and activity that can affect how a person behaves. Approximately 25 percent of college students with disabilities have been diagnosed with ADHD – either as a child or once they entered college. It has become common for students as young as 10 to have an ADHD diagnosis and to begin treatment.
Researchers are still trying to understand the underlying causes of ADHD, but the latest studies suggest that there could be a genetic connection. Studies have also shown that boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.
Thankfully, treatment is readily available in the form of common medications. Ritalin and Adderall are the two most commonly prescribed medications for college students in America. These medications enable those suffering from ADHD to increase focus and remove mental distractions.
It is important to seek an opinion from a licensed medical professional and be honest with yourself and your counselor. If you have one or more of the following symptoms you may have ADHD:
- Inattention- Those with ADHD have a hard time paying attention or staying focused.
- Disorganization-ADHD patients often struggle to stay organized-commonly misplacing things and keeping a messy living space.
- Hyperactivity- Individuals with ADHD find it hard to sit still for even short periods. They may often be fidgety, restless, and move from thing to thing for no reason.
- Impulsivity- College students with ADHD often seem to act without thinking. This can make classroom settings difficult. This impulsive behavior also increases the risk of binge drinking or drug use.
Mental Illness Among College Students
Treatment options are more readily available than ever before, with many schools even having counseling options on campus or virtually. However, severe issues will still necessitate mental health treatment at an off-campus facility. It is extremely rare for a school counseling office to have the capability to effectively treat mental illness.
Mental Health Treatment for College Students
As many as 90% of accredited colleges and universities now boast counseling options for students-many even provided free of charge. Most of these schools have an LMHC (licensed mental health counselor) who oversees multiple therapists or interns who are legally allowed to counsel. Studies show more and more students are utilizing these resources. Many schools report having as many as 50% of on-campus students utilize counseling services.
While it is extremely convenient and cost-effective to see a counselor on campus, there still may be a need to be referred out to someone with more expertise. While some school therapists can prescribe medication, many still rely on local psychiatrists or virtual options.
Together, the academic and local communities are raising the bar for the treatment of mental health issues with college students. Conventional treatment methods include everything from cognitive-behavioral therapy to group therapy and many other options.
Begin Your Treatment at Montare Behavioral Health Today
If you or a college student you love are dealing with mental health issues, Montare Behavioral Health is here to help. Whether it is as simple as connecting you with on-campus resources, or as involved as detox, rehab or partial-hospitalization-we are ready and willing to help.
Our trained professionals have experience with age groups from adolescents, to seniors, to everything in between. Many of our counselors are less than a decade removed from college themselves and are well acquainted with the struggles and needs of this age group. Contact us today for a consultation or visit our website to see what resources are available to you for free!