College Student's Mental Health is Not a Priority

College is one of the most difficult times in our lives. As college students, we have intense workloads, a newfound lack of support, major life changes, decisions to make all the time, and, for the majority of us, we are in a state of poverty. All of which contribute to heightened stress and severe burnout, especially around midterms and finals. For many people, college is one of the most rewarding times in our lives, but this comes at a cost. Texas A&M and the University of Miami published a special issue in the Journal of Psychology in 2013 that stated, “Student mental health problems are a growing concern on college campuses.” College students, according to Martha A. Kitzrow, are seeing an increase in psychological issues, as well as an increase in the severity of these psychological issues. Symptoms of mental health problems have negative impacts on academic performance and achievement – this creates even more stress and low self-esteem among students. If this stress continues further, causing long-term mental health problems, the risk of diabetes, asthma, arthritis, social isolation, and discrimination increases. This is a very serious and real issue that can have lasting impacts on the overall health and wellbeing of the individual.

But as a society, we tend to accept the poor mental health conditions of students as just a phase of life that everyone has to go to. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15–24 year-olds, and just over 10% of college students said that they have seriously considered suicide in the last ten months. That means that if you are in a class of 30 people, at least 3 of the students have seriously considered suicide. So why is this the case? Well, along with the increase of stress, a different social environment, and financial pressures, there is limited access to counseling services and a lack of preventative measures. So even though many universities say they care about the well-being of students, the reality is without a change in the college environment; student’s mental health will not improve. 

Women Sitting Close Together Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Recently, local news stations started reporting a story about a college student in Utah County who was evicted from their off-campus student housing for expressing suicidal thoughts and sharing that they had been struggling with self-harm to their roommates. This story was picked by the press from a tweet by a friend of the student stating, “No wonder we have a #MentalHealth and a #TeenSuicide problem in Utah County, Utah. This is a letter that a teenage friend of mine received today after reaching out to her roommates in Orem for help with self-harm/suicidal thoughts. WTH Ventana Student House?!” The letter stated, “We have been made aware that you have vocalized suicidal tendencies which have caused undue stress and alarm to your roommates and violated part E and F of #7 in your lease. At this time we are choosing to terminate your contract, as explained above.” Not only does this situation exemplify the lack of support for students struggling with mental health, but student communities being intolerant of mental health problems. 

 

The college social scene also puts students at risk. We know that partying and binge drinking is a huge part of the college experience, whether or not it's safe. While partying and drinking alcohol aren’t inherently bad things, they can also cause problems with mental and emotional well-being. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), substance misuse among college students is extremely prevalent; this includes binge drinking and recreational use of prescription drugs. They also point out that mental health issues are common for college students and this reflects the pressure of college. Substance misuse creates a variety of issues among college populations and even their surrounding communities. Studies have shown a correlation between suicidal behavior and substance misuse. Also, substance misuse can transition to substance abuse disorder. Alcohol plays a huge role in sex-related harm, including unsafe/risky sexual behaviors, sexual assault, and rape. SAMHSA concludes that 97,000 college-aged adults are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault. Without the involvement of alcohol, Kimberly Hanson Breiteenbecher estimates that 15% of women in college have been victims of rape. Sexual assault has been linked to a high level of anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). College-aged women are most at risk for sexual assault and rape, creating heightened anxiety and distress for victims. How are students supposed to be successful and perform well academically when there are serious implications that the environment is not conducive to good mental well-being?

Students Partying Photo by Jacob Bentzinger from Unsplash

Like most things, the pandemic has only exacerbated mental health issues among college students. In the middle of March, many college students were forced out of their dorms or living situations. Their classes, extracurriculars, and internships were all canceled. In just a few weeks everyone’s lives were turned upside down. This massive disruption has put even more pressure on students – many are returning to campus with more financial stress, the constant fear of getting COVID-19, and, in some cases, complete social isolation. All of this while all breaks have been omitted from the semester. Burnout has become the norm among college students, especially without breaks and switching to non-conventional classes. Students are still expected to function as if there isn't a global pandemic going on, and with very little aid or concern from their college administration. For some students, the most they get is an email that says, “Keep going, you’ve got this!”

 

So what can we do to prevent the worsening mental health of students and support those who are already struggling? There are many strategies that have been well-researched that can help. SAMHSA has outlined that, “Campus efforts to prevent and reduce substance misuse are largely focused on environmental measures to restrict availability and access and to shape social norms on use and acceptability; promotion of mental health and a healthy, caring campus climate; and screening and counseling services.”  Martha A. Kitzrow recommends that there has to be active support on the institutional level to provide adequate funding and to have a legitimate concern and sense of responsibility to fix the problem, not to solely rely on counseling services. That being said, counseling services should be expanded to better suit the needs of the students. It should include the most extensive individual counseling and as well as continued group therapy. College campuses need to create an environment that is healthy and promotes safe habits. The pressure and challenges that students face are too much. If we want to prioritize college student’s mental health, we have to hold college administrators accountable for ignoring student’s mental health and demand they make changes. 

 

 

References

https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.lib.utah.edu/doi/pdf/10.2202/1949-6605.5037?needAccess=true

http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.utah.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=ddb38560-81f6-4129-a54d-0f8ac9d8d47d%40pdc-v-sessmgr01

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/l/long-term-physical-conditions-and-mental-health

https://www.govst.edu/suicide-prevention/

https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma19-5052.pdf

https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.lib.utah.edu/science/article/pii/S0962184905800368