It’s a rough time to be a college student. The COVID pandemic has affected many young adults severely, both on a personal and academic level — which has also brought about many mental health issues in college students.
Students who were already struggling financially are facing rising costs and dropping incomes and might not have been able to rely on their families to continue to finance their education.
College Students and COVID
The social impact of COVID alone has affected the average student’s mental health. Among college students surveyed in 2020, more than half (56 percent) reported being significantly concerned with their ability to care for their mental health, while 63 percent said that their emotional wellbeing has worsened.
Over 80 percent reported feelings of anxiety, 68 percent reported loneliness, and 63 percent refported depressive thoughts. One in five students had suicidal thoughts in the last month. Only 16 percent of students have been able to say that they felt better during lockdowns, as the break afforded more time for self-reflection.
These issues aren’t unique to the pandemic. Teens have become increasingly more likely to report mental health issues in recent years, and teenage rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues have been on the rise for a while.
Common Mental Health Issues in College Students
While the COVID pandemic has edged things on for many, college continues to be a stressful time in general, especially as teens feel as though they face greater academic pressure, much tougher job prospects, and much less social mobility than previous generations amid growing economic insecurity, wealth inequality, and the looming threat of climate change and its impact on the world.
Addressing these key issues takes time. On an individual level, college students can learn to manage their mental health more effectively, learn to balance stressors and respective coping mechanisms and learn to value the importance of specific key lifestyle measures that can drastically improve their mental health, such as good sleep and frequent exercise.
The Rise of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder in the world. They affect 40 million US adults and have been on the rise. An anxiety disorder is generally characterized by irrational worry and intrusive, unwanted thoughts. These thoughts can often influence and affect behavior and create maladaptive or negative patterns in both thinking and acting.
Someone with anxiety will have a hard time confronting it on their own because their thoughts continuously reinforce their fears and worries. It can lead to physical reactions, including unexpected and untriggered panic attacks and physical responses of fight-or-flight in relatively normal, non-threatening situations.
Treating an anxiety disorder may require both therapy and medication. Anti-anxiety meds can help modulate the severity of a person’s symptoms, but it is the therapeutic approach to modeling and changing one’s thoughts and behavior over time that does the majority of the work in many patients.
Depression in College
Another common type of mental health problem is depression. Depression usually refers to major depressive disorder, or clinical depression – a condition characterized by at least multiple weeks of consistently low mood and a “baseline” of sadness.
A depressed person isn’t just temporarily sad or mourning, but they struggle to feel joy and may have a hard time feeling motivated or inspired by anything, including the things they used to love. A common and severe characteristic of depression is anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure.
In some cases, depressed thoughts can reverberate so strongly in a person that they lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. A depressed person may often think that they are useless or unwanted or that life has no point. This can also make it challenging to motivate oneself to perform even basic tasks of self-care, like getting out of bed to go to the shower or changing into regular clothes. Physical symptoms are also a common hallmark, usually in the form of unexplained aches and pains and endless fatigue.
Substance Use in College
Academic stress, poor mental health, isolation, and financial difficulties can all compound and raise the risk of substance abuse in teens and young adults, particularly alcohol use.
High school and college-aged individuals are already at a much higher risk of binge drinking and adverse health effects related to alcohol consumption.
Whether to deal with the stress or self-medicate, substance use problems are common in college. Co-occurring disorders or a dual diagnosis of addiction with a mental health disorder can further complicate things, as they require a holistic treatment plan tailored to an individual’s circumstances.
College and ADHD
Nearly one in five college students has ADHD, a condition that affects thinking and behavior and can disrupt concentration and severely impact learning. ADHD is a condition that responds incredibly well to medication but can lead to severe developmental, cognitive, and substance abuse-related issues if left untreated.
Furthermore, ADHD often co-occurs with other mental health problems, making many cases a compound issue where multiple disorders may be addressed at once through proper treatment. In fact, a survey by the World Health Organization found that as many as half of college students with depression or anxiety (internalizing disorders) were also struggling with ADHD. And 76 percent of students with substance use problems had ADHD.
Getting Professional Help
Learning to identify the key characteristics of a mental health problem is an essential first step in improving your mental health – but the next step is even more important.
Less than half of adults and less than 20 percent of teens and kids who are eligible for mental health treatment get the level of care they need, and many don’t seek it out in the first place.
While the stigma around mental health issues feels like it may have receded in recent years, the truth is likely much more complicated. There is still an undeniable disconnect between realizing you need help and getting that help.
It all starts with you. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health issue, don’t wait to act. Talk to them about professional help and speak to a psychiatrist together. Think about treatment clinics. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression are highly treatable – but it takes time and a commitment to the treatment process.
Talk to a professional today and let them help you address your thoughts and worries.