Is Mental Illness Increasing In College Students?

Going to college can be a period of intense highs and lows. It can be fun, but it can be just as difficult. Between trying to balance your schoolwork and your social life, feeling peaks of stress during midterm and final exams, and the bittersweet excitement mixed with nostalgia when finally graduating, it seems like there's never a dull moment. With so much going on, young adults navigating college life may find it challenging to manage their mental health.

A 2015 article published in Academic Psychiatry reports that problems related to multitasking and juggling life responsibilities are observed in college students. In addition to their academic responsibilities, many students work part-time or full-time, adding further stress.

Sadly, mental health problems are common among college students. According to The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, approximately 73% of students experience a mental health crisis while in college, and more than 80% feel overwhelmed with work.

For students with mental health struggles, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, their chances of a low GPA or dropping out of school appear to be greater. It's equally tragic to note that only 25% of students who are struggling with their mental health reach out for help, as reported by The Clay Center.

There is no doubt that a lot of college students struggle with their mental health, but is this becoming more prevalent in recent years? If that is the case, what could the increase be attributed to? 

Are mental health concerns getting worse for college students?

It appears that mental health issues among college students are steadily on the rise. A 2022 study observed a significant 50% increase in problems related to mental health in college students from 2013 to 2021. About 60% of students had at least one mental health problem by 2021, and racial and ethnic differences were also evident. In particular, there was a more noticeable increase in depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and other mental health issues among American Indian/Alaskan Native students.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds reports that the need for counseling services has increased five times faster than average student enrollment. Observable mental health problems in college students are growing to the point that there are insufficient resources available for these students on campus. 

A number of factors may be contributing to the increase. For instance, The Clay Center explains how the human brain is not fully mature until 26 years old. Before this time, a young adult's brain can be driven by emotion, impulsivity, and pleasure-seeking. Although college students are expected to act like adults, their brains are still in the developmental transition into adulthood.

Additionally, pre-pandemic college life was stressful enough, but now students must deal with mental health issues related to COVID-19. In a survey conducted by Best Colleges, 95% of college students reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health. 46% of students felt more isolated and lonely, and 52% reported difficulties completing homework. 

How can we improve the mental health of college students?

College students are on the path to making significant contributions to our world, and protecting the mental health of our youth should be a priority. After learning about the ongoing increase in mental health problems, you may be wondering what can be done to relieve some stress off college students and help them reach their full potential.

As explained by The Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds, one of the greatest barriers to seeking help is the fear of being marginalized, and it's important to destigmatize mental health issues. This can be encouraged by anti-stigma college campaigns, and by providing more access to mental health services.

If you are a college student yourself, you may want to consider what you can do to preserve your mental health. The good news is you can take steps to safeguard your mental health during a hectic semester. TimelyMD reports that effective time management skills are essential for your academic success throughout the semester. You can keep track of your to-do list by using a calendar or time management app, and by creating a consistent schedule.

You can track any mental health concerns that you notice in yourself in a journal, which TimelyMD points out can help you become in touch with your emotions. In addition, you can connect with others or even practice meditation to reduce some of your stress. Speaking with a therapist may also help you if you are struggling.