The setting of a college campus is one of high stress and high expectations that requires students to perform a balancing act of focusing on their studies, being involved, maintaining a social life, and working and applying for internships and jobs. Often things that should be prioritized like sleep, nutrition, and exercise are the hardest elements to maintain in the mix of things. The culmination of all these factors can take its toll, most noticeably in the form of the “freshman 15,” and getting sick more often. However, what goes unnoticed is the compromise the college experience can have on a student’s mental health.
The Unknown Crisis
Recently, mental health issues have been on the rise among college students. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 70 percent of counseling center directors surveyed have reason to believe that the number of students on their campus with mental illness has increased in past years. Anxiety and depression are leading challenges for college students. Directors report that 40 percent of those in university counseling centers present mild mental health concerns, while over 20 percent present severe concerns. This trend is understandable, with necessity placed on obtaining a college degree in our culture. More than ever, students are working and stressing about not only graduating, but managing and paying for their education, as well. The college environment is as stressful as it has ever been. Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness maintains that 75 percent of all mental health conditions develop and portray themselves in an individual before the age of 24. The mixture of the sometimes volatile university setting and the timing in which mental illnesses develop has put the issue of mental health at the forefront of college students’ lives, often unbeknownst them, and with little support to turn to.
Hofstra’s counseling services promoted the importance of mental health in college by holding its third annual Fresh Check Day in the Student Center Atrium yesterday. pic.twitter.com/y7n3fCdhHm
— The Hofstra Chronicle (@HUChronicle) September 13, 2018
Universities Need to do More
With the trend of mental illness on the rise among college communities, institutions have a responsibility ensure that their students have the resources they need. First and foremost, colleges need to offer more accessible and financially practical counseling for their students. For students who dorm and live far from campus especially, the counseling services offered by the university may be their only option. They should not be limited to certain number of sessions, nor should they be forced to stop counseling because they cannot afford it. Fundamentally, institutions need to foster an atmosphere where mental health and self-care is prioritized and talked about in every facet of the community. This means doing their part in reinforcing healthy behaviors in their students, whether it be getting enough sleep, eating right, or getting enough exercise— all factors that can influence an individual’s mental health. Universities should offer more talks and seminars to educate their students about the importance of prioritizing themselves before anything else, and to give them a better foundation about the signs of mental health issues. Having an open dialogue about these issues will help to de-stigmatize them and encourage students to look out for their own mental health and seek help when they need it. Additionally, any staff at the university that deal directly with students should have some education regarding identifying and understanding the signs of mental distress in students, and how to accommodate students where needed. Students should be able to talk to their professors, advisors, counselors openly about mental health and be taken seriously. Students need to know that the institution they are attending considers anything they are going through as valid, and that it values their well-being before anything else.
Put Yourself Before Anything Else
If you are a student and find yourself being stretched to your absolute thinnest, it is okay to take a step back and prioritize your well-being before your studies and commitments. The pressure is always on to perform this balancing act, and it is easy to feel as if taking a break or sacrificing some commitments is not in your best interest. There is no strict mold that needs to be followed when it comes to how quickly you finish school, or how many things you involve yourself in. If you feel yourself becoming more distressed because of it, and your physical and mental health are becoming compromised, you should do what is most vital to staying healthy, and happy. It may feel like everyone around you is managing just fine, or just powering through their stress; however, if you find that you are just not yourself, be open about it to your friends and classmates because there is a good chance that you are not alone. Be the first of your friends to open a dialogue about mental health, you may find that you are not only helping yourself but those around you as well, and you can find support around one another. Be a part of the culture change on your campus and start a conversation, you can be part of the de-stigmatizing of the topic of mental health and the jumpstart of an improved university environment.
Asking for help for your mental health is not attention seeking. In a world where mental health is stigmatized, asking for help is brave. Don’t let anyone shame you for putting your mental health first.
— Buddy Project (@ProjectBuddy) October 9, 2018
Mental health and mental illnesses are still some of the most stigmatized and most misunderstood parts of our society. With educational institutions having a larger part in the shaping of our culture as the value of a college degree increases and becomes more essential, the prioritizing of these issues in the university setting has begun to play an even larger role in improving our society’s view of them on a macro-level. College is a pivotal time in an individual’s life, and with all the chaos that comes with it, they deserve to have the foundation and support they need to sustain a healthy mental state, while still achieving everything they need to obtain their degree and pave a career path.