Mental Health in College: What to Know

By Madison White on November 16, 2019

As society becomes more and more conscious and knowledgeable about mental health, many are starting to realize the ways it affects certain demographics of people. One such demographic is college students. Because of the amount of stress that students today are under, whether it be financially, emotionally, or mentally, the mental health of college students is becoming an increasingly talked about subject. Colleges have begun to pool more and more resources together to ensure that their students are healthy and cared for during their time. However, there are still many things that may be a mystery to people from different types of diagnoses to what therapists do to what they can do to help themselves. This article will detail the information and steps you can take to better understand mental health.

Types of Mental Health Concerns:


The term anxiety covers a wide range of conditions from social anxiety to GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). Most commonly, anxiety is related to nervousness or excessive worrying. It is important to differentiate between normal amounts of worrying and anxious thoughts. Many people will feel small amounts of stress and anxiety from situations like public speaking or meeting new people. Anxiety disorder is often when the worrying and nervousness is preventing someone from living the way that they want to.

Anxiety can also be noticed through a variety of symptoms. Many doctors are still researching to find out exactly which symptoms are caused by anxiety as there appears to be a wide range. Panic attacks are generally associated with anxiety. A panic attack is when someone becomes extremely distressed which is often accompanied by a rapid heart rate, sweating, trouble breathing, and spiraling thoughts. Other people may experience anxiety on and off with other isolated or combined symptoms like nausea, trouble breathing, rapid heart rate, heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, inability to focus, and others.

Difficulties with anxiety can arise in college students because of the many new situations they are thrown into. While some can cope well with new surroundings, others have difficulties finding their place at college and can develop anxiety around things like socializing, managing assignments and grades, and being away from family.


People often describe depression as though they are in a “dark hole” that they cannot escape. While everyone experiences lows in life, depression brings hopelessness that does not go away for a longer period of time. While it can look different in everyone, depression is often present with these symptoms: feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in daily activities, appetite change or weight change, sleep changes, anger or irritability, loss of energy, self-loathing, reckless behavior, concentration problems and unexplained aches and pains.

Many times, symptoms like fatigue, sadness, and loss of interest can be attributed to other things. Because college is a time of rapid change, sometimes changes in ourselves can go unnoticed because we think we are just different while living in a new place.

Other Mental Illnesses

While anxiety and depression may be the most common mental health disorders affecting college students, there are many others that may afflict students like eating disorders, PTSD, bipolar disorder, addiction, and schizophrenia. Your university may or may not have special services for these issues. It is a good idea to contact them and see, and if they do not have specialized services, they can offer resources or other centers that can help.


Seeking Professional Help

Extreme Situations

If you or a person you know is considering extreme action, like harming themselves or somebody else, you should immediately contact an emergency helpline. Call 1-800-273-TALK in the U.S. or visit IASP or to find a helpline in your country.

There are also many various forms of help lines available over text and phone call if you want to talk to someone immediately, but do not want to seek emergency services.

Physical Symptoms

If you are experiencing physical symptoms alongside mental symptoms, you may want to see a primary care provider to make sure that you are physically sound. Once you have been cleared for any obvious physical issues, then you can talk to a therapist or counselor about your symptoms.

Campus Resources

Every campus will have different resources available to students. It is very common for colleges to have a variety of mental health-related options for people needing different kinds of help. You should visit your university website to find out more about what they provide. Here are a few of the different types of help they may offer:

Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Therapists

Most campuses will have all or some of these people available to help students and university staff. In many cases, appointments are either free or at a much-reduced rate so that their services are accessible to students.

These types of medical providers all do similar things with slight differences. One main difference is that psychiatrists are able to write prescriptions while others are not. Other titles may differ based on qualifications and degree level. Basically, they provide services where you will discuss your mental health struggles and they will make suggestions that will improve your outlook. For some people, all they need is a safe space to talk to someone to feel better. For others, they may be looking for actionable solutions to their issues. Every counselor is different and you may want to have a few small sessions before deciding who is right for you. Don’t be discouraged if you do not mesh well with the first one you meet.

Your counselor may recommend a variety of options for you. It is common for them to try cognitive behavioral therapy that works on changing how your brain thinks and reacts to some situations. Many therapists will suggest various methods of coping when panic, anxiety, or depression sets in to try and ease the symptoms and spiraling that may occur. They may also recommend various types of group therapy if they are applicable.

If they are licensed to write prescriptions, they may prescribe you medication.

Mental Health Activities

Because many campuses have begun to recognize the toll that college is taking on students’ mental health, they often offer various mental health-related activities. These usually occur on campus and at relatively frequent intervals, depending on your university. At some colleges, they will have entire weeks filled with mental health-related activities for people to attend and learn more about.

A common activity for colleges to do is animal therapy, often in the form of dogs that students can visit and hang out with. Sometimes this only happens occasionally, but other campuses may have full-time emotional support animals for students to see and enjoy. Other common mental health activities are free yoga sessions, storytelling sessions, and mental health screenings. In some cases, teachers will incorporate mental health-related activities in their classrooms.

Steps You Can Take

1. Talk about mental health

One of the first steps to making progress in your mental health is to talk about it. For a long time, mental health was viewed very negatively, but this has started to change in recent years. People are realizing that mental health issues are something that many people deal with on a regular basis and that they are nothing to be ashamed of.

It is a good idea to talk to trusted friends and family about your struggles and about how you plan on seeking help. They will often respond positively and show support toward your efforts. They may also even respond to you with their own mental health struggles which can open up new and important conversations that you may not have had otherwise.

2. Adapt to a healthy lifestyle

Unfortunately, a typical side effect of mental illness is neglected our physical wellbeing. When other things like assignments, grades, and social lives take top priority, taking care of our bodies can often fall by the wayside. It is very common for students to joke about how terrible they eat on a regular basis and how late they stay up.

While college can certainly glamorize this type of lifestyle, it can be really detrimental to your mental health progress. One of the methods that tends to work the best is making sure that you are doing things to stay healthy. This doesn’t mean that you need to completely overhaul your entire life, but put some steps in place to prioritize your health. You may want to try eating meals that include some key nutritional factors. You may want to start regulating your sleep schedule so that you are getting enough every night, yes, even before big assignments are due. Many professionals also say that regular exercise can make a big difference in overall mental health, so try finding something that works for you! Most campuses have free gyms and fitness classes for students to use.

3. Try mindfulness techniques

One word that often circulates a lot when talking about mental health is mindfulness. However, the exact definition of this can be relatively abstract. Mindfulness, in short, is being consciously aware and acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts, and sensations. There are many ways that people achieve mindfulness and it is recommended that people add it to their daily routines.

Some people practice mindfulness by doing breathing exercises that help them focus on the present moments. Others try meditation practice. Some people achieve this by participating in meditative activities like yoga. These techniques are especially helpful for people who are learning to cope with anxious thoughts.

4. Seek professional help

Which steps people take can vary widely based on the severity and frequency of their symptoms. While this point is listed as number four, it could easily be listed as number one. Seeking professional help is often the first step to real progress. There is often little harm in seeing a professional as they can deliver clarity, reassurance, and actionable steps that other people simply cannot. Many campuses offer these services for free or at a very low cost so hopefully, there will not be financial barriers to seeking help.

While seeing a therapist or counselor still comes with a lot of stigmas, most people find it to be a positive experience that is beneficial to their overall wellbeing.

5. Support your friends

In some cases, it can be difficult for people to realize that the issues in their life are mental health-related. They may have internalized stigma about needing help and instead believe that they should just figure it out on their own. While it is not your job to diagnose people as mentally unhealthy, you may want to encourage them to seek out help if they are showing signs and symptoms. If you feel comfortable, you may want to discuss your own journey with mental health issues and what resources helped you. Remember to always be encouraging and supportive of them and never force them to take action. Unless they are showing extreme behavior, like thoughts of suicide, it is not your place to make decisions about their mental health.

6. Speak with your advisors and teachers if necessary

Mental health struggles are not something you have to go through alone and hopefully you have already taken the steps of speaking with your friends and family. Keep in mind that other people in your life may need to be informed about what is going on if it is affecting your academic performance. Many teachers and professors understand the struggles students have with mental health and are supportive in helping their students achieve success. If necessary, you should contact your professors if your health is having an impact on your academic success. How much you decide to disclose is up to you and may vary from teacher to teacher. Overall, it is a better idea to be candid and open with your teachers rather than ignoring the issue until it is too late.


Becoming more informed about mental health is the first step to improving things for yourself and the people around you. It is of the utmost importance that taking care of your mental health is a priority. Always remember that you are not alone and that there are people out there to help.

Madison graduated with her Master's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester (UK), and holds Bachelor's degrees in English and Creative Writing from Wichita State University. She currently teaches English at Wichita State University and works as a freelance writer and blogger on her website Madison White Writes and elsewhere.

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