College Mental Health: The Growing Epidemic

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Mental Health in College

College mental health is stepping into the lime light as a growing epidemic but as times change, stigmas are still slowing students from getting the right help. In today’s society, more and more people are beginning to enroll in and attend college. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping 69.1% of 2018 graduates between the ages of 16 and 24 had enrolled in college. Most enroll with the intent of studying a topic of interest in order to establish a career, while others may attend to form connections or to gain a sense of independence. Regardless, no one enters college with the intent of worsening their mental health – an epidemic seemingly increasing with time.

In general, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI], one in four young adults has some form of mental illness, with 11% experiencing anxiety and 10% experiencing depression. Additionally, 73% of college students with mental health conditions have experienced, on campus, a mental health crisis. Despite this, nearly 35% have stated that their campus did not even know the crisis had occurred. So, what is causing this rising epidemic?

Risk Factors

One of the largest contributing factors to the development and prevalence of mental conditions is simply stress. According to NAMI, 40% of college students experience above-average levels of stress; at the same time, more than 80% felt overwhelmed by the things they needed to do. Stressors arise in the form of homework, jobs, internships, and extra-curricular activities – all of which are essential to establishing a foundation of experience to achieve a career upon college graduation. The building up of stress may hold a large effect over the worsening and relapsing of pre-existing mental condition symptoms. In addition to stress from workloads, mental health can be affected by feelings of inadequacy. These feelings might arise as college students struggle to balance their new levels of independence, and as they begin to feel the pressure to figure out who they are and what path they choose to go down. Students are pressured intensely to figure out who they want to be while they’re still in high school. The pressures only intensify as they head to college and may discover that the path they chose isn’t what they truly wanted. This, in turn, causes stress as they struggle to find out what they want to do upon graduation, while still attempting to graduate on time.

Additionally, studies have shown that college students are not seeking help for their mental conditions. A NAMI survey indicates that roughly 40% of those with mental conditions do not seek out treatment. Nearly 45% dropped out of college because of their mental health, and half did not seek services or supports. If students are suffering, why don’t they reach out for help through things like therapy or support systems? One of the leading barriers for seeking help with mental health is stigma. People fear shame or embarrassment from seeking professional help. Society still holds traces of negative views on those who seek out therapy or counseling, so people hesitate to reach out. Instead of wanting the hypothetical weight of society’s negative views towards them on their shoulders, college students instead choose to suffer in silence – which may only make conditions worse.

Why Is It Important?

Seeking out help when it comes to mental health is crucial because negative mental health effects nearly everyone, particularly in the college setting. Illnesses such as anxiety and depression have been known to lead to lower productivity and hold negative effects on interpersonal relationships. Additionally, untreated mental health issues may lead to failing grades, college dropout, or even suicide. This, in turn, harms those close to suffering students due to grief, and can harm institutions if they are losing students rapidly due to negative mental health. It is therefore important to understand that stigma still exists and puts many people at risk. For this reason, we must work to abolish the stigma and encourage others to seek the help they need.

Steps You Can Take to Help Your Mental Health

Build a Support System

The switch to college can be especially harsh on mental health if you are attending a college far away from home. Try to introduce yourself to others in your dorm or in your classes, or even join some social organizations. Building connections with others attending college can help to build supportive relationships with people who may be feeling similarly to you!

Maintain Healthy Habits

Between classes, jobs, and extra-curricular activities, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be difficult while you try to establish a routine. Try to set aside one or two days a week to get outside or do something active to boost endorphins. Instead of hanging out with your friends in the dorm, move outside and relax or take a walk together. Additionally, try to avoid high sugar and fatty foods in the campus dining hall; try to stick to a well-balanced diet. Lastly, as much fun as staying up late may seem; try to go to bed at a decent time. Aim for eight to ten hours of sleep per night; your body and mind will thank you!

Reduce Academic Stress

One of the biggest pressures students face during college is procrastination, which then increases stress as you attempt to cram studying or homework in a short amount of time. Set aside time to do your homework a few days before it’s due, and add in increments of studying here and there to avoid that last-minute cram. Additionally, don’t spread yourself too thin with extra-curricular activities! Join organizations you like, but make sure to prioritize your mental health and well-being before committing yourself to a handful of clubs.

How Can Makin Help?

At Makin Wellness, our providers strive to help those suffering with negative mental health. Our Downtown Pittsburgh location places us close to a wide range of colleges, including: The University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon University, Point Park University, and many more. If you or someone you know is suffering from declining mental health due to college, visit our website or send us an email at to set up an appointment and begin your healing journey.

Serena Daywalt
B.A. Psychology Major | Point Park University
Research Psychology Intern | Makin Wellness, Downtown Pittsburgh
Events Coordinator and Advocate | PPU Strong Women, Strong Girls
Mentor and Academic Events Coordinator | PPU Honors Student Organization

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

All articles are written in conjunction with the Makin Wellness Research Team.

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