This article appears in November Family magazine.
The transition to college can be so stressful and overwhelming for young adults that a new global study finds more than one-third of freshmen report symptoms of a mental health disorder. Many colleges are responding to this statistic in an effort to meet the treatment needs of students.
“I think colleges are acutely aware that many students on their campuses are struggling with mental health concerns,” said Dori S. Hutchinson, a Sargent College associate clinical professor and director of services at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. “Campuses are struggling, and there is this tension on how to balance mental health services and crises with their traditional academic responsibilities and priorities. Some institutions have found a way to do both well, and some have decided to outsource it.”
The study from Columbia University found that of 14,000 college freshmen, or 35 percent, have at least one diagnosable mental health disorder. One-fifth of college students, of all ages, had a mental health disorder in 2016, according to the study.
“This generation of young people is more open to discussing their mental health,” said Dr. Lisa Adams Somerlot, director of counseling and accessibility at the University of West Georgia and past president of the American College Counseling Association. “They don’t experience the barriers, the embarrassment, the shame of talking about it that previous generations did.”
Additionally, today’s college students are more anxious than previous generations’, Adams said. They grew up with the internet and understand the toll it can take on mental health and that people are dying by suicide, she said.
“The most common mental health challenges that we see large numbers of first-year students struggle with are anxiety issues and depression,” Hutchinson said.
First-year college students are at risk of mental health issues for a variety of reasons, she said.
“They have also been raised on social networking, many living their emotional and social lives online, spending less time than past generations of students on the face-to-face experiences of engaging in real-time relationships. They have been raised to believe every dream is attainable and that they have an untenable right to this achievement. So, they are not well-prepared to deal with the inherent challenges and disappointments that come with the first year of college,” Hutchinson said.
College students are interested in the whole health package.
“They have so much information, so when they are not feeling well, they take the opportunity to go in for a mental health check,” Adams said.
The first place to find effective care is often a college’s counseling center, but with so many students looking for help some may fall through the cracks. In response many counseling centers are offering therapies such as group programs, online counseling and other resources to help students, Adams said.
“Classes that develop resilience and wellness such as mindfulness, meditation and fitness can be tremendously helpful to students,” Hutchinson said. “Joining student groups like Active Minds or any group where a student feels like they are ‘home’ in their ‘community’ can help a student build emotional resilience and wellness that will be helpful if living with a mental health condition.”
The Jed Foundation (jedfoundation.org) offers confidential chat lines and texting, and mental health resources for teens and young adults, both experts said.
“Use technology to your advantage. Apps like Calm and MindShift can help teach relaxation methods and help cope with anxiety,” Adams said.
“Asking for help is a sign of strength. … There is enormous research that links academic success to positive mental health, so making time for taking care of one’s mental health is one way to create a foundation of personal success. There is no health without mental health,” Hutchinson said.