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College Mental Health: Where And Why Students Struggle


For several years in a row, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health has reported an increase in the number of college students who seek treatment for mental health issues. These students aren’t just struggling with normal college stress. According to the report, college counseling centers are seeing another increase in the number of students who clinically present a “threat-to-self.”

Anxiety: More Than Student Stress

In April of 2019, UC Berkley researchers released preliminary findings from the look into anxiety disorders among college students. As reported on by Berkeley News, “The number of 18-to-26-year-old students who report suffering from anxiety disorder has doubled since 2008…” Numerically, the researchers found that “the percentage of all students nationally… who reported being diagnosed with or treated for anxiety disorder climbed from 10 percent in 2008 to 20 percent in 2018.” Richard Scheffler, the team leader for the research initiative, went so far as to call this spike in anxiety disorders a “new epidemic.”

Though no causation was determined, there is no one reason or series of reasons why more students are suffering from an anxiety disorder, the researchers were able to point out a few possible contributing factors. For example, the increasing financial burden of attending college, then having to pay off college loans is extremely stressful. As well, college students spend copious amounts of time attached to digital devices, which numerous research studies have linked to a decrease in overall mental wellbeing.

Stress is common for college students, regardless of financial burden, screen time, co-occurring mental health disorders, or any other factor. Many students hold one or two jobs, positions in social groups, extracurricular teams or activities, and more while balancing the requirements of a rigorous academic schedule. However, stress is significantly different from anxiety. With this new research, we are no longer talking about “typical” college stress. These students are reporting on diagnosed, or diagnosable anxiety disorders. Meaning, college students aren’t just sick with stress, they have become mentally ill.

The Relationship Between Anxiety, Mental Illness, And Substance Use

The consequences of struggling to cope with mental illness during college can expand from mental illness symptoms to co-occurring disorders, like the development of an eating disorder or a substance use disorder. According to the Berkeley research, “a student with anxiety is 3.2 times more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs…” SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found in their 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health that 50.5% of students, or general adults, aged 18-25 who had used prescription stimulants in reported misusing them.

Depression On College Campuses

Depression has also been on the rise in recent years. The American College Health Association released findings in 2018 from a survey which found that 41.4% of college students found it difficult to function in their day to day life because of the severity of their depression within the last year.

A number of factors can contribute to college depression, in addition to the factors that contribute to college anxiety, like financial burdens, demanding schedules, and digital device interactions. College comes with the heavy stigma and stereotype that there is a copious amount of fun to be had – that college should be full of friends, activities, social events, partying, and fun. Students who are stressed, anxious, and/or depressed will likely struggle in their social life, which can make their mental health struggles feel even heavier.

College Campuses Struggle To Meet The Mental Health Demand Of Students

Unfortunately, collegiate institutions have not prepared for the mental illness epidemic spreading across campuses around the country. Budgets have not been adjusted, resources have not been allocated, and campuses are overall ill-prepared to handle the influx of students need psychological, as well as psychiatric care. Students are faced with long wait times for counseling or care, are without nearby resources if they are far away from home, and don’t have any other form of education or support regarding their mental wellbeing. Tragically, this leads to an increasing number of students to substance use and self-harm. According to an article on Vice, students can wait anywhere between two to three weeks to get an appointment at a college counseling center, as evidenced by a 21 study by STAT News. The New York Times, the article cites, found that some schools have a waiting period for up to two months.

What To Do If Your College-Age Student Is Suffering

Most colleges have a specific system in place for taking “medical leave” from school, giving a student the necessary time off to restore their health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, many schools treat this opportunity punitively, creating harsh restrictions and requirements for being “allowed” to come back to school. With the right treatment center, treatment team, and treatment plan, colleges, clinical teams, and support networks can work together to help restore a college student to wellness. If you have a college student in your life who is suffering from anxiety, depression, a substance use disorder, or a combination, there is help available.



Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1296.

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If you or someone you love has a substance use or mental health disorder, Origins Behavioral HealthCare can help. We will work alongside you to provide the most comprehensive treatment available.