For a lot of people, starting college is an exciting but daunting time.
On a popular online forum, students talked about their first year of college and the challenges they faced. A lot of replies centered around roommate drama, challenging classes and adjusting to a new environment, but some described aspects of the college experience that often go unaddressed: dealing with stress, anxiety and loneliness.
In answering the question, What was the hardest part of your first year of college?, one user wrote: “The intense social anxiety and feeling isolated,” a sentiment that was echoed by others on the platform. Someone else talked about the stress of keeping up with coursework. “I had zero time management skills and untreated ADHD. In high school I could get away with procrastinating until the very last minute. That doesn't work out so well in college. I still did fine in all my classes, but at the cost of my mental and physical health.”
Another user shared a story about how she “simultaneously felt free and terrified that I didn’t know how to function under normal circumstances.” She describes how she struggled to cope with her sudden freedom. “I ended up feeling intense guilt for normal experiences and actions like going for a walk outside or watching whatever I wanted on TV.”
These experiences are common among college students. Navigating a new lifestyle on top of keeping up with coursework brings many to the brink of their mental wellness. As a result, the symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression begin to appear.
The poor mental health of students has changed the college experience. These years are supposed to be some of the best of our lives, but research shows they’re often not. Especially now, as the lasting impact of COVID-19 created new stressors and worsened existing ones.
Although the mental health situation on campus looks dire, there is hope. Keep reading to learn how awareness, advocacy and technology are helping students find their balance again.
The latest Healthy Minds Study — which analyzes more than 350,000 students on 353 campuses each year — shows that college students’ mental health has deteriorated between 2013 and 2021. During that time frame, rates of depression and anxiety have doubled with no signs of slowing. This trend worries experts since college is a key developmental period.
“The age of onset for lifetime mental health problems…directly coincides with traditional college years — 75 percent of lifetime mental health problems will onset by age 24,” said study co-author and Boston University researcher Sarah K. Lipson in a recent press release.
Today, three-fifths of students experience a mental health concern. Increasing numbers of undergraduates are reporting symptoms such as anxiety, depression, disordered eating, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and more. The pandemic made things worse, but instances were beginning to rise even before COVID-19. These issues are correlated with decreased academic success and more than double the risk of dropping out.
However, the troubling statistics have brought more awareness to mental wellness issues on campus. University leaders and public health experts are suggesting ways to better help those who need it, and students are open to their ideas. But first, there are some barriers that need to be addressed to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Experts are finding that more students overall are willing to seek help and access mental health services on campus. However, there are still challenges. While the stigma has decreased, some worry about what others will think. And many students who are open to getting help might hesitate and wait to see if things get better on their own.
Another issue is that the rising prevalence of mental health issues is outpacing the number of students able to find and receive support. On most campuses, there is a serious lack of services to fill the need. There just aren’t enough counselors, therapists and other mental health professionals available to meet the demand.
There are also striking mental health inequities on college campuses. The Healthy Minds Study found that minorities, LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC students saw the largest increases in symptoms like anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, with American Indians and Alaskan Natives disproportionately affected. Additionally, students of color utilized mental health services the least. These inequities have been found in previous surveys and have not improved.
Many ways have been suggested to improve students’ access to mental health services, such as by modeling college campus programs that have seen real results. Some proven solutions include prioritizing flexibility with walk-in appointments, extending grace to students who come in late and reaching out to those who skip or miss regularly scheduled sessions.
Other campuses have had success by utilizing telehealth services. The shift to virtual and online appointments has all but eliminated long wait times, so students can be seen in less than a week. Combined with increased training for faculty and staff on the importance of mental wellness and promoting awareness about prevalent issues, many colleges are better able to provide the quality care that students need to stay healthy.
Technology has also helped make mental health services not just more accessible, but easier to navigate as well. Students are turning to mental wellness apps that can help with a variety of issues. For example, meditation and breathing exercises can help alleviate stress, while therapy or coaching sessions in the palm of your hand let students find the help they need on their own terms. That’s why Sokya offers a complete mental wellness ecosystem that makes all of this and more available from your smartphone.
Finally, experts say that universities should work to promote diversity in their mental health staff. Students with varied cultural backgrounds might be more reluctant to seek help if they’re unsure that providers will be sensitive to their needs. Providing training opportunities for students of color to enter the mental health field is also a huge opportunity for colleges.
College can be a difficult time, but it doesn’t need to be made harder with a lack of access to quality mental health services. At Sokya, we provide therapy, coaching, support groups, medication management and more online, in person or through our mobile app, so students can overcome some of the barriers to getting help and create their own unique mental wellness plan. To learn more about our services or explore your treatment options, reach out to a Care Coordinator today. You can get started by calling 866-65-SOKYA or clicking here to complete our online contact form.