The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses

atkins-bookshelf-educationIf you are a college student are you feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, lonely, or sad? You are not alone. A 2013 study by the American College Health Association surveyed approximately 100,000 students at more than 150 colleges of all sizes across the country. The results are, well, sad and disturbing:
84% felt overwhelmed with the demands of college life
60% felt sad
57% felt very lonely
51% felt overwhelming anxiety
8% seriously considered suicide

Why is this happening? Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success, believes there are several factors at work. The most obvious is that kids are being pushed from an early age to be overachievers and perfectionists. The other factor is the negative impact of overparenting; there are several terms for the culprits: helicopter parents, overinvolved parents, or tiger parents. Lythcott-Haims points to a number of recent studies that show a strong correlation between overparenting and increased mental health problems. Studies consistently show that children of helicopter parents show a greater percentage of vulnerability, anxiety, self-consciousness, and depression. Moreover, these students are less open to new ideas, lack basic coping skills, and have not mastered true independence; a staff psychologist at one university observed: “Overinvolved parenting is taking a serious toll on the psychological well-being of college students who can’t negotiate a balance between consulting with parents and independent decision-making.” Add to all this poor nutrition, sleep deprivation — not to mention obligatory unrestrained drinking — and you have the perfect recipe for mental health meltdown.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012 there were approximately 20.6 million students enrolled full-time in American colleges. That means there are 17.3 million students who feel overwhelmed, 12.36 million students that are feeling sad and lonely. You get the picture — there is a very real mental health crisis on college campuses. Many colleges counseling centers are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for help. There just aren’t enough counselors to go around.

Given this dire mental health situation, the editors of Buzzfeed felt compelled to reach out to their online community and mental health experts to come up with their insightful and helpful list of “29 Life-Saving Tips They Didn’t Teach You at College Orientation.” Here is how college students can take better care of their mental health:

  1. Recognize that your mental health really matters
  2. Give yourself time to make friends (it doesn’t have to happen in the first week)
  3. Change your ideas of what is means to be successful in the context of college (since college is very different than high school)
  4. Realize that anxiety and depression are very common among college students
  5. Don’t compare your life to what your peers are posting on social media sites
  6. Find a place that is only yours (your “happy place”)
  7. Realize that there are many other students who are or feel like they are floundering
  8. Know what mental health resources exist on your campus BEFORE you actually need them
  9. Talk with your professors about issues BEFORE they become an overwhelming problem
  10. Use the resources on campus; talk to a counselor
  11. Be aware of the impact of drinking and partying; know your limits
  12. Get to know your academic adviser
  13. Be kind to yourself; treat yourself from time to time
  14. Don’t be miserable: drop classes or change your major if necessary
  15. Set reasonable expectations; it is OK if they change over the months or years
  16. You do not have to have a big problem or major issue to see a counselor
  17. A resident advisers can be a great resource or he or she can lead you to the right people
  18. Take care of your body: sleep and eat well
  19. Don’t disguise the fact that you are experiencing mental health issues
  20. Know the warning signs of feelings that are impacting your mental or physical health
  21. Make honest assessments about your physical and mental health from time to time
  22. There are no time limits for adjusting to college life; it is different for everyone
  23. During your first semester don’t be an overachiever — you have a ways to go until you graduate
  24. Try to joint one organization or group that you really care about and makes you feel good
  25. If you are taking medication or seeing a therapist, the first semester is not a good idea to go “cold turkey”
  26. Don’t worry about missing out on some exciting college events — there will be other opportunities; prioritize your time
  27. Don’t become overly dependent on friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, or family members
  28. Even if you are very busy, reward yourself with breaks
  29. Remind yourself that it is perfectly OK not to be OK



Read related posts: How College Can Help You to Live a Good Life
Getting the Most Out of College

The Danger of Overparenting
Best Books for Graduates: 2015
The College Admissions Mania


For further reading: How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (2015)

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