College is filled with drama.You might breakup with your boyfriend/girlfriend. There could be a challenge with a roommate. Certain academic classes are leaving you anxious. You feel the professor is out to get you. The weather might be gloomy. Your part time job sucks. You miss your family.
There’s no doubt about it; college can get even the most upbeat student down. What should be a positive, enlightening experience can turn into something glum and stressful. When that happens, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone.
Don’t be discouraged. You are not alone. A 2013 survey by the American College Health Association found that 40% of male students and 57% of female students experienced overwhelming anxiety in the past year. More recently, a 2016 study by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute found that 12% of college freshmen have admitted to being frequently depressed. Despite the data, researchers feel that most mental health issues go unreported. Depression, anxiety, frustration, and despair are quite common amongst the college student population.
College life can have as many “downs” as it does “ups.” Being away from home can be trying for many people. Easy access to drugs and alcohol can lead to anxiety and depression. Moreover, academic demands don’t help either. Forget to turn a paper in on time? How about that test you didn’t study for all that well? Suppose you’re sick and miss more classes than you thought? Those incidents are common and do very little to help your state of mind.
Whereas mental health treatment for their student population won’t be showcased on campus tours, colleges are becoming more aware of the mental health challenges their students face. More schools are now putting resources in place to help. They are expanding mental health facilities, hiring more counselors, and encouraging students to seek assistance. Florida state universities alone are seeking to hire over 100 new mental health counselors during the next several years. Many schools are teaching faculty and staff how to identify troubling signs and encouraging us (faculty) to be more attentive.
It’s all a good start, however, students need to do their part as well. College students should not be reluctant to seek mental health assistance. Basic services are usually covered under the college’s health insurance requirement so there should be no extra cost. Moreover, counselors make their presence known on campus and present themselves as empathetic resources. The stigma of obtaining mental health assistance is declining.
Additionally, many schools now offer mental health related workshops or activities under the guise of general wellness as another means of addressing this growing issue. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation are becoming popular activities on campus. Stress relief workshops and general wellness clinics are also becoming more common.
As a veteran college professor, I can say that the subject of mental health is something not enough of us pay as close attention to as we should. We get wrapped up in the nuances of our class and often fail to take a step back and recognize the challenges outside the classroom students are facing. The blinders we so often wear keep us from realizing that some students might be troubled. Perhaps there is a bad breakup with a friend or partner? Or, perhaps a family member is going through a serious health concern or life changing event? The student might even be going through a serious issue with his or her own health. Most of us just carry on, going through business as usual, just trying to get through our workday. We may or may not make an exception to our students for missed work. The paper you may be struggling to complete at all, let alone on time…. too bad. The deadline is what is. See the syllabus.
Ironically, most of us have good hearts and are sympathetic to the frailties of our students. We just don’t know they exist. Rare is the student who self-identifies as having a mental health issue. We are often made aware there is a learning disability, or even a physical disability, but a diagnosed mental affliction such as depression or anxiety almost always remains unknown to us.
If you are a parent who’s about to send your son or daughter to college, take the time to speak with a school representative about how the campus manages the mental health of their students. This can be done privately during a campus tour, or if you cannot visit the campus, you can telephone or email the dean of students. Even if you feel your child doesn’t need these services it is important to know they are there “just in case.”
If you are a student struggling with the stresses of being in the college environment, there are things you can do as well. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, something that can be tricky in college. This would involve eating well, sleeping well, and getting regular exercise. A healthy sex life can also be helpful. Be mindful of overindulging in drugs and alcohol. And most important, don’t hesitate to speak to an on-campus mental health counselor. The counselors I’ve gotten to know over the years are nice people who genuinely want to listen and help. All visits are private, too.
Whereas mental health woes such as depression anxiety are common, keep in mind that college experience can also be positive and highly rewarding. There are many great benefits college provides. Finding happiness in the journey is critical to making the most of these years. Great things are all around. You just have to know where to find them.