Academics & CareerAnxiety & StressDepression & Bipolar

6 Min Read

College & Graduate Student Mental Health

The first year on college or university campuses can be an exciting one full of new experiences for people receiving their undergraduate or graduate degrees. Amid the fun of declaring majors, decorating dorm rooms, making new friends, and joining clubs and organizations, some college students may face mental health challenges and risk the onset of mental health disorders.

Adjusting to a new environment and trying to maintain high academic performance can be stressful for some college students. This stress can cause impaired emotional health and diminish focus and energy.

Mental illness can impact college students’ grades, behaviors, social life, work, and daily functioning. People with mental illnesses shouldn’t feel shame or struggle alone. They should instead reach out for the help they need and deserve.

Learn about depression and anxiety in college, self-care, the benefits of utilizing mental health services, and ways to find a therapist below.

college mental health

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the College Student Population

The prevalence of mental illness is highest in the college student age range:

  • Of individuals between 18 and 25 years old, 22 percent have a mental illness.
  • By comparison, 21 percent of adults aged 26-49 and 14.5 percent of adults 50 years and older have a mental illness.

Per the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors:

College Students and Mental Health Challenges

In addition to depressive and anxiety disorders, college students also struggle with mental health issues such as:

Using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or mental health conditions is common for college students. Substance abuse can heighten the symptoms of mental illness, disrupt daily functioning and academic performance, and lead to addiction.

Experiencing Depression in College

Depression: What is it?

Depression is a mental health disorder with symptoms, including a lack of interest or enjoyment in usual activities and persistent, disruptive sadness. Young people in college, undergraduate and graduate students alike, may struggle with adapting to increased workloads, busy schedules, living away from home and family members, and limited financial means. These factors can contribute to stress and feelings of loneliness, which can result in mild to major depression.

Depression in College-Goers

Many college students experience depression, one of the most common mental disorders. Among 125,000 students across 150 U.S. colleges and universities, an estimated one-third of students experienced severe, disruptive depression.

Clinical Depression Signs

Depression is a mental health disorder that typically causes university students experiencing a depressive episode to feel sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, fatigue, and irritation.

Depression can increase or diminish appetite, cause weight gain or loss, and lead to oversleeping or insomnia. Mental health problems and other symptoms caused by depression can make concentration in class and on assignments challenging. Furthermore, depression can contribute to suicidal thoughts.

Normal Feelings of Sadness vs. Clinical Depression

Experiencing depression symptoms can be normal during difficult times, such as grief. However, people who show depression symptoms that worsen and last longer than two weeks should seek professional mental help. The occurrence of one depressive episode makes future episodes more likely.

Risk Factors for College Depression

Some risk factors contributing to depression in undergraduate and graduate students may impact anxiety as well, as these two mental health conditions often occur together. Some obstacles that contribute to mental health problems in college include:

  • Homesickness – Living on-campus and missing loved ones, past routines, and the familiarity and comfort of home can be difficult.
  • Social challenges – Some students may feel like making friends or fitting in is hard. Disliking a new roommate or dealing with a long-distance relationship can also overwhelm undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Academic stressors – Undergraduate and graduate students can find it challenging to adjust to college workloads compared to high school academics.

How to Handle Depression in College

Students facing mental health issues, symptoms of mental disorders, or a mental health crisis should use on-campus and off-campus mental health programs and support services, join support groups, and practice self-care.

Discussing mental disorders and one’s mental health and experiences with trusted family members, friends, college faculty members, and counselors can help manage depression. A mental health professional is especially necessary in cases where depression and other mental health disorders disrupt one’s academic performance, physical health, emotional health, and overall wellness.

Recognizing the need for professional help and fighting stigma by pursuing it isn’t a weakness, but a strength.

Experiencing Anxiety in College

 Anxiety: What is it?

Anxiety disorders are a group of similar mental disorders characterized by different symptoms. Shared symptoms across each anxiety disorder include persistent, excessive anxiety, worry, and fear in non-threatening situations, which can negatively affect daily functioning.

Prevalence of Anxiety Among College-Goers

As stated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concerns for the general population in the United States. NAMI estimates that 19 percent of adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder.

Among surveyed college students in the United States, over 60 percent reported experiencing “overwhelming anxiety.”

Types of Anxiety Most Common in College Students

  • Generalized anxiety – Undergraduate and graduate students may worry uncontrollably about academics, loans, jobs, family issues, and more. Symptoms include concentration difficulties, irritability, fatigue, and restlessness.
  • Social anxiety – Many students who experience social anxiety may avoid social interactions in-person and through social media due to an intense fear of facing scrutiny and judgment by others in conversations or at parties.
  • Anticipatory anxiety – Undergraduate and graduate students may feel anxious about upcoming exams, projects, dates, meetings, and more.
  • Panic attacks and panic disorders – Panic attacks are sudden, severe episodes of fear accompanied by cognitive and physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, nausea, and shaking. Recurring panic attacks characterize panic disorders.

How Healthy Stress and Unhealthy Anxiety Differ

Feeling stressed now and then is a normal part of life, whereas excessive, intense anxiety can negatively impact some students’ everyday functioning and wellness. Professional guidance is advisable in cases of persistent, severe anxiety.

Risk Factors for College Anxiety

Academic, personal, career, financial, and family stressors can influence anxiety that occurs during college. Some factors include:

  • Academic performance – Grades and exams are standard sources of stress and anxiety for college students.
  • Gaining independence – Living away from home and learning to be independent can make some students feel lost and overwhelmed without the presence and guidance of their loved ones.
  • Deciding on majors, graduate programs, and careers – The number of possibilities and paths students can take during and after college and graduate school can be overwhelming.
  • Impostor syndrome – College students may be susceptible to feeling like everyone else has a plan figured out while doubting themselves and their abilities. They may experience anxiety because of a fear of others “finding them out.”

Handling Anxiety in College

Identifying and understanding what triggers anxious feelings and consulting mental professionals with specialization can help students better manage their anxiety.

Taking Care of Yourself in College

The American College Health Association conducted a recent study, the 2019 National College Health Assessment (NCA), and revealed that under 50 percent of female and male college students surveyed considered their health “good” or “excellent.” This leaves room for improvement.

Every college student, including those who think they’re in good health, can benefit from exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep and rest, following a reasonable schedule, and making routine visits to primary care physicians and mental health professionals.

Receiving Off-Campus Mental Health Assistance

Finding an Off-Campus Therapist

When looking for an off-campus mental health professional for long-term care, it’s essential to consider the kind of provider needed, the insurance they accept, general fees, and their specializations.

Client-therapist fit is a critical component of therapy. Students can receive excellent help and guidance from a therapist they trust and have good rapport with, and who specializes in their needs.

College students can use WithTherapy to access excellent licensed mental health care professionals in the United States. These professionals have experience treating adolescent and young adult clients with general and specific mental health problems and mental health disorders.

WithTherapy is a dedicated therapist search platform that can connect students to nearby therapists who are knowledgeable of mental health first aid, symptoms of poor mental health and specific psychiatric disorders, and implement treatment through therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Using this excellent resource, students can engage in online therapy sessions, which is crucial amid social distancing and lockdown orders across the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

College students can rely on WithTherapy for the assistance, support, attention, and coping tools they need and deserve to manage the symptoms of mental health disorders and their mental, physical, and emotional wellness.

Find Your Healthier WithTherapy

Let's Get Started