Thanks to various class loads, exams, and homework deadlines — not to mention looming amounts of student debt — college can be a challenge for any student to cope with.
Getting anxious, homesick, or feeling down about these things is normal. It’s when it all becomes too much to bear that mental health issues may develop.
It’s estimated that up to 75 percent of college students with mental health problems do not seek help, according to a Healthline article.
However, depression, anxiety and eating disorders are just a few of the college mental health issues students face. These, in turn, can affect their well-being, their grades, even their finances, and safety.
If you believe you’re struggling with some of these problems, or you’re concerned about a friend or classmate, recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness is the first step towards seeking help.
A look at mental health in college
Mental illness can affect a student’s ability to concentrate, study, work, sleep, and eat.
Indeed, according to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in one’s thinking, emotional, or behavioral patterns.
College mental health statistics also demonstrate a concerning trend:
- One in four college students has a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- 80 percent feel overwhelmed with responsibilities
- One in three students reported prolonged bouts of depression
- 50 percent rated their mental health below average or poor
- Two-thirds of students who are struggling do not seek treatment, according to the American College Health Association
5 college mental health challenges
Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, mood and eating disorders are a few signs of untreated mental illness issues.
Here are a few more statistics that show how prevalent these college mental health conditions can be:
- 49.5 percent of students reported feelings of hopelessness in the past year, according to National Data on Campus Suicide and Depression
- 60.5 percent also reported feeling lonely
- One in four students reports having suicidal thoughts or feelings, according to NAMI
- One in seven students reported engaging in abnormally reckless behaviors
Signs of mental illness can manifest themselves in many ways. Here are the five most common disorders and their symptoms found on campus.
Depression goes beyond simply having the blues. It’s characterized by a persistently depressed mood, as well as feelings of despondency, worthlessness, and even helplessness
Depression is also the number one reason given by college students for dropping out of school.
Although it can have a number of risk factors like your genetics and biochemistry, environmental factors play a role, too.
If living on campus has made you feel isolated, or it’s been hard to make friends at school, you may be more vulnerable or prone to depressive moods.
Some symptoms of depression include:
- Constant feelings of sadness, unhappiness, guilt, or worthlessness
- Pessimistic or fatalistic thinking
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Chronic fatigue or loss of energy
- Withdrawing from participating in activities you once enjoyed
- Trouble concentrating or sleeping
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Mental health experts emphasize that depression is not the same thing as sadness or mourning. And just because you or your friends may feel down or stressed out once in awhile doesn’t mean you’re suffering from depression.
But if you begin feeling the above symptoms more consistently, it may be time to seek help to improve your overall mental health.
It’s okay to feel tense or a bit anxious before a job interview, first date. or big exam. And struggling with finances, living on a student’s budget, and preparing to pay back student loans can trigger anxious feelings as well.
But an anxiety disorder is much more pervasive and may interfere with your ability to attend class, pay attention, study, or go about your daily life.
A few types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: characterized by constant, major anxious feelings and worry that can interfere with your day-to-day life
- Panic Disorder: you may experience frequent, unexpected attacks or feelings of terror, accelerated heart rate or fear
- Social Anxiety Disorder: sometimes called social phobia, symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder may include irrational, anxious feelings during everyday interactions with people
Additionally, anxiety disorders are common among college-aged students.
In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states it’s one of the most common mental illnesses in the country. More than 40 million people over the age of 18 are affected, even though only one-third seek treatment.
What’s more, nearly three-quarters of anxiety disorder sufferers will have their first episode before age 22.
3. Eating disorders
Eating disorders go beyond regular dieting. Rather, it’s an unhealthy fixation on being thin combined with a deluded sense of body image.
One common eating disorder is Anorexia Nervosa, characterized by a preoccupation with weight loss, self-starvation, and withdrawal from social situations as an excuse to avoid food.
For example, a college student who exhibits these signs will never accompany friends to the dining hall to eat. Or, perhaps they will be overly enthusiastic to empty the food off their plate by sharing most of it with others.
Bulimia Nervosa is also defined by a cycle of binge eating combined with compensatory behaviors like self-induced vomiting.
Eating disorders aren’t just a mental condition, either. Victims of anorexia, bulimia, or a binge-eating disorder can damage almost every organ system in their body, along with their skin, teeth or hair.
Additionally, many sufferers of eating disorders also resort to using laxatives or other prescription medications to facilitate their addiction. And when an individual’s organs have been irreparably damaged, eating disorders can lead to death.
Statistics show that those enrolled in a full-time college program are twice as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than those who haven’t gone to college.
What’s more, drinking on campus often goes hand in hand with socializing and partying. And, many students feel peer pressure to drink — or to use drugs — in order to fit in. Approximately four out of five college students drink alcohol.
Apart from the social aspect, many college students will turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stresses of academic life. Or, a big course load.
Adderall, known as the study drug, is just one stimulant abused by college students. Adderall users look to be “on” or awake in order to meet their academic requirements.
Suicide can result from any of the disorders listed above. It’s the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults aged 15 to 34, according to the Center for Disease Control.
While women may be more prone to suffering from an eating disorder, an Emory University study indicated that male, white college students under the age of 21 are more susceptible to suicide ideation and attempts.
Helping those with mental illness
There are ways for you to identify the signs of mental illness on college campuses. Not only among your friends or peers, but also in yourself.
Spot the warning signs and symptoms
It’s often difficult to distinguish if you’re just stressed out or truly depressed.
Yet, becoming more aware of the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental illnesses can help you decide if it’s time for you or someone you care about to seek help.
Groups like the American Psychological Association, the Anxiety Resource Center, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or the National Institute of Mental Health are good resources to check out.
However, you should never self-diagnose yourself or anyone else.
Seek out help and resources on campus
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help where you can find it. Namely, at your college campus.
Many schools and universities often provide free or low-cost counseling services. These usually grant you access to a campus psychologist or licensed mental health professional experienced with disorders common among college students.
Take a gentle, caring approach
Never make light of a situation if someone you know talks about harming themselves or committing suicide. Additionally, suicide threats should always be taken seriously.
If a friend or roommate shows signs of a potential mental disorder or hints at suicide or self-harm, lend a compassionate, sympathetic ear. Be the friend they need if a potential crisis is at hand. Sometimes, the biggest step is finding someone supportive to talk to.
Additionally, if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, depressive feelings, or possible addictions, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to take action. Confide in someone you trust, like a friend, counselor, or professor.
And if you need immediate support or help, never hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
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