Mental Health on Campus
For many students college can be a time of great stress—from hectic class schedules to juggling social obligations, it’s safe to say that in many cases the only constant in university life is change. Some students can handle this change and the challenges it presents in stride, but for many the relentless combination of psychological stressors and anxiety can take a serious mental toll if not balanced with healthy coping mechanisms.
It is very important to be proactive and aware of your own mental health, as well as the mental health of your peers around you. Group awareness and respect towards the wellness of others can go a long way in preventing serious psychological breakdowns.
Risks and Signs of Mental Health Issues
The combination of stress-related factors that come with campus life can have a particularly heavy impact on impressionable students, many of whom may be living on their own for the first time in their lives. College is a time of self-driven responsibility, and the stress of building a social life while maintaining good grades adds up quickly. Lack of sleep may seem obvious and nonthreatening, but be aware of taking too many all-nighters or sacrificing a good night’s rest for other priorities. Not getting enough sleep is one of the most common stressors in college settings, and it can increase the chances of depression, weight gain, and general anxiety, and greatly increases the risk of suicide.
It’s just about impossible to make it through four years of college without being exposed to high levels of stress, however. While everyone deals with such stress in a slightly different way, keep a barometer on your own level of stress—which is one of the most common causes of depression. Warning signs of stress-induced depression include volatile emotions and mood swings, heavy or unusual fatigue, and particularly a loss of interest in activities that were formerly engaging.
Check out these links to help identify early warning signs of mental health issues that commonly affect college students:
- Mental Illness and the Family: Recognizing Warning Signs and How to Cope – A detailed overview of coping and recognition techniques from Mental Health America.
- Warning Sign of Mental Illness – a robust collection of resources to help deal with common mental illnesses (including depression) that affect a large number of people aged 24 and older.
Tips for Combatting Stress and Other Mental Health Issues
There are, of course, many factors of stress and anxiety. Often students will know they are facing these challenges, but not have a solid grasp of ways in which to help deal with them.
The following list of tips and advice are easy and straightforward ways to help combat common stressors and causes of anxiety and depression, all easily accomplished by even the busiest of students.
- If you’re constantly feeling tired during the day, try taking a break to stretch once an hour. Stretching is a great way to relax your mind and increase energy, and is scientifically proven to improve mood.
- It is important to be as physically active possible, particularly if you are already at risk for depression or other troublesome mental health issues. Strenuous physical activity releases endorphins in the brain, which are crucial in counteracting the imbalances that often arise due to prolonged stress and anxiety.
- If you attend college in a climate that does not receive much sunlight during the winter months, consider taking vitamin d supplements, and maybe even purchasing a mood lamp. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects thousands of people each year and is a major cause of depression and chronic fatigue in communities without substantial sunlight. Many people do not realize they are at risk for SAD until they already display symptoms.
- A leading cause of depression and fatigue that is often overlooked, particularly in relation to college students, is diet. Healthy food is not always available to students who therefore turn to cost-effective and convenient solutions, such as fast food. Trans fats and simple carbohydrates are abundant in these foods, and although delicious, these things bog down the body (in excess) and can contribute to depression and other issues.
- As mentioned earlier, sleep is absolutely crucial for college-aged students, as it is the time in which your body and mind repair themselves. Sleep should not be sacrificed for any reason, especially not repeatedly or habitually.
Check out these resources for high quality tips on reducing stress in a college environment:
- College Life: 10 Ways to Reduce Stress – qualitative steps to achieve mental clarity in a college setting.
- Managing Stress, a comprehensive guide from the University of Michigan.
- Surviving Stress and Anxiety in College, a well-rounded guide that offers a free quiz to help you diagnose your level of stress and understand whether or not you are at risk for further mental health issues.
Be Proactive, Seek Treatment
If you or a friend have shown any of the signs described above, it’s quick and easy to visit a campus student health center to speak to a mental health professional. Keep in mind that many students are going through exactly the same challenges as you are, in some cases to more extreme degrees.
While it’s easy to be deterred by the common stigma of mental health issues, it is everyone’s duty to remain proactive and take the steps necessary to becoming more mentally sound, for our own health and for that of our communities. Addressing latent mental health issues may make daily life a little more manageable or enjoyable for some students, but in other cases can truly prevent tragedy.
If you or a friend are ever considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 1-800-273-8255.
For More Help, Try These Additional Resources
Resources for students:
- An organized listed of external associations and organizations targeted towards college students of diverse backgrounds deal with mental illness.
- The Jed Foundation, an organization whose goal is to advance initiatives to keep students better informed on mental illness.
- Teen Mental Health, a multimedia collection of highly targeted mental health resources.
- An index of external resources from the American College Health Association.
Information about depression:
- Information about depression from the University of Washington counseling center.
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s resources on dealing with stress. Includes videos.
- Frequently asked questions about depression and college students from the National Institute of Mental Health.
- A quick sheet on anxiety disorders for the classroom.
Advice For Seeking Help
- Ways to help others get help, includes information for veterans and programs available through most health insurance programs.
- Decide what mental help is right for your situation with this resource from Mental Health America.
Articles about students and mental health
- The Number of College Students Seeking Mental Health Treatment is Growing Rapidly, from Huffpost College
- College Students Speak, a survey report on mental health from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Mental health on college campuses: A look at numbers.
- How Colleges Flunk Mental Health, from Newsweek.
- Students with symptoms of mental illness often don’t seek help, from University of Michigan