College was a time of liberation for many grownups, with new prospects for a job, study, and leisure, to learn new things and mature. Student mental health crises are increasing, today, our students have far more options than they did in the past – certainly far more than prior generations had.
But, as you recall those glorious days of freedom and autonomy — love, laughter, friends, and a true sense of self-sufficiency – you can’t help but recall the “near misses.”
Isn’t it true that we’ve all experienced close calls? Consider your time in college. Remember when you watched a friend pass out, or when you were nearly engaged in a catastrophic automobile accident, or when you got lost in a distant and, in retrospect, dangerous part of town and couldn’t figure out how to get back to campus?
Perhaps this is why we are concerned about our college-aged children.
But, to be honest, there are other reasons to be concerned. It’s one thing to be concerned about isolated occurrences. It’s another thing for us to realize that college is a tough time for our children. We don’t typically consider the massive mental health crises and emotional upheaval that most of our college students mental health crises face.
College student mental health crisis
We all are facing a true mental health crisis on our campus today. Let’s look at some scary facts about mental health on college campuses.
Mental health issues are becoming very common among college students :
- Over half of the college students had a psychological condition in the previous year.
- 73% of students have a mental health crisis during their college years.
- Almost a third of college students say they’ve been depressed to the point of being unable to function.
- Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and all other issues are linked to a lower GPA and a higher rate of dropping out of college.
- According to the Center for Disease Control, 20% of female students report sexual assault or threats of sexual assault.
- College counseling service directors tell us that the number of students with significant psychological disorders has steadily increased. Demand for counseling services has grown at least 5 times faster than average student enrollment.
- Only 25% of students who have a mental health issue seek help.
To make things even worse:
There is a severe shortage of services in colleges and universities: The ratio of trained counselors to students on college campuses ranges from 1:1000 to 2000 for small to medium-sized schools to 1:2000 to 3500 for large colleges.
Clearly, something must be done immediately.
What causes college students mental health crises?
Let’s think about possible causes for mental health crises and barriers to receiving care when needed before examining solutions.
A pre-existing or new-onset psychological disease, or the recognition of a previously undetected learning handicap, are some of the vulnerabilities in college students. By the age of fourteen, almost half of all psychiatric problems have manifested, and over seventy percent have displayed by the age of 25.
Many students struggle with anxiety and weariness due to their inability to manage stress. Others are plagued by extreme worry, sadness, homesickness, and loneliness. Most college students have had traumatic relationships and are unable to navigate them.
We must also recognize that, while we treat 18-year-olds as adults, the brain does not fully mature until about 26. The brain is mostly influenced by emotion from puberty and the mid-twenties. The neural pathways between the “lower” emotional, pleasure-seeking, and impulsive centers and the “higher” cortical regions that examine alternative options, repercussions of actions, and use logic and reasoning to alleviate emotional demands are still being formed. Technically, the adult brain architecture, i.e., the myelination of neurons, has not yet been fully established.
As a result, youth are still governed by feelings, impulses, and pleasure-seeking, affecting decision-making and behavior in high-stress settings like those found in college.
In other words, college students are not yet mature enough to act independently as adults.
So, what are the roadblocks to receiving assistance? I believe they fall into three categories for students and parents:
- Insufficient services, and
- A lack of information
As previously stated, clinical services and mental health experts are few in colleges. Evaluations and counseling are frequently unavailable due to a lack of resources. Insurance restrictions are frequent, and many student health plans are severely inadequate for mental health treatment. Most students and parents have an only rudimentary awareness of how and where to seek assistance, such as obtaining referrals on or off-campus. Many students are unaware of where to get counseling or psychiatric emergency services on campus, let alone whether or not they are eligible.
How to improve mental health on college campuses
While this may be unsolvable with significant economic, campus-wide bureaucratic, and logistical difficulties specific to each college campus, most students, parents, staff, and college administrators really want things to improve. The key question is how we’re going to do it.
Here are some recommendations for bringing beneficial improvements to our campuses:
1. New educational platforms for mental health and sickness should be established
Education about mental health, well-being, and resilience promotion is essential for prevention and early intervention. Live and online modules are part of several educational programs that can be used in various settings on the campus, from dorms to classrooms to campus-wide events. These courses would be beneficial not only to students but also to parents and instructors. Descriptions of mental, situational, and interpersonal difficulties, where to seek diagnosis, assistance, therapy, and techniques to minimize or alleviate stress should all be included in educational objectives.
Students should also understand what to do if they are concerned about a friend or fellow student. Other students are often aware of mental health issues, but they are unsure what to do or fear intervening may worsen the situation. If you are concerned about someone on campus, everyone should know where to go and what to do. Every college campus should have a user-friendly mental health and wellness website or app.
2. Increase the availability of mental health services
Every university community member, including parents, should be aware of available resources on and off-campus. All of the necessary information regarding such services, providers, and the nature and coverage provided by insurance might be found on a college website. If insurance coverage is insufficient for a sector of the college campus, the task committee mentioned earlier could look into alternate policies for community members.
3. Change the system by working with college administrations
It would help if your colleges had task forces and committees to examine the challenges students face that can affect their mental health and well-being and establish new counseling centres to address these issues.
This massive undertaking should consider educational programs for students and parents on campus, a larger workforce in mental health centres, and new financial sources to support this infrastructure. Above all, the process must be driven from the top-down, with support from the colleges and universities’ highest levels. All stakeholders, including students, parents, educators, administrators, and mental health specialists, should be represented in task groups.
You can encourage any members of these groups to ask the college administration to establish a mental health screening process on campus. A few colleges have started this, but much more can be done.
The sensation of being part of a supportive community is crucial to mental wellness. We are social animals who live in groups. We will have significantly fewer mental health problems concealed behind closed doors if students, teachers, and other campus community members can come together on a regular basis and have a venue to address questions and concerns and tell their stories. Support and acceptance from the community are effective tools for empowering adolescents to speak up and seek treatment without feeling ashamed.
5. Encourage peer counseling
Peer support has long been proven to be incredibly beneficial in allowing kids to open up about their issues and challenges. This has been proved in the success of AA programs for substance abuse and support groups for various emotional and behavioral issues. Peer counseling organizations such as SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), oriented toward high school students, and Active Minds, which is geared toward college students’ mental health crises, have proven to be highly beneficial.
6. Reduce the stigma associated with mental illness
We must normalize rather than stigmatize. Fear of being alone or alienated is perhaps the most significant obstacle to obtaining assistance for an emotional or behavioral disorder. Psychiatric disorders affect one out of every four people at some point in their lives. Given the significant frequency of mental health issues, we need to reframe emotional disorders as a natural part of life, not as a shameful blemish, a personal weakness, or a character flaw. Educational and anti-stigma efforts at colleges can be quite beneficial in this objective.
7. Encourage methods for improving student well-being
Good nutrition, exercise, sufficient sleep habits, meditation, yoga, cognitive behavior therapy, collaborative problem solving, stress reduction strategies, reflective conversation, and expressive art groups are all activities and abilities that promote mental health. It is not difficult to include these activities on all college campuses.
Suppose college takes the initiative and promotes these principles. In that case, there is little question that we will witness a significant cultural shift on campus, one that embraces open debate about how mental health and well-being may be harmed and encourages people to seek help and guidance.
And such a transformation will likely save lives. Isn’t this what we’re all looking for?
If you think your mental health issues are increasing to an extreme level, then you can go for online therapies too.
Don’t break your engagement with good reading. Stay tuned for our latest blog posts on mental health.