COLLEGE STUDENTS AND MENTAL HEALTH

According to 2018 and 2019 student surveys from the American College Health Association (ACHA), about 60% of respondents felt “overwhelming” anxiety, while 40% experienced depression so severe they had difficulty functioning.

A 2019 Pennsylvania State University study noted that demand for campus mental health services increased by 35-40% during a period that saw only a 5% increase in enrollment.

Anxiety and depression represent only some of the prevalent mental health issues experienced by college students. Others include serious problems like suicide, eating disorders, abusive relationships, and addiction. Mental health professionals stress the importance of talking about such issues, but students may lack the time, energy, will, and/or money to seek the support they need. Outreach and education are vital.

DEPRESSION
Here are some signs of depression to look for in friends:
They are not enjoying activities they once loved
They no longer attend classes or social outings are experiencing extreme anger or sadness over a relationship in their life
They react negatively or with apathy to most things
They often talk about death or suicide

Words of encouragement show your friend you are a source of support. Avoid telling your friends to “cheer up” or “snap out of it.” Many people experiencing depression are aware of their condition, and telling them to get over it is not helpful.

If you feel your friend is at risk, gently encourage them to seek help and offer to accompany them to a student health center or a doctor’s appointment. While talking through their issues with you may be helpful, it is not a substitute for treatment.

People who have depression often feel as if they are alone and have no one to turn to. But it’s important to understand that isn’t the case, as people care and want to help. People with depression also have resources at their disposal that they may not know about.

For example, the following organizations are dedicated to providing resources for those living with depression.

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
This organization promotes the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, and related disorders. Its website offers insight into understanding depressive mental illnesses, provides links for those seeking help, and identifies mobile apps designed to help people living with depressive illnesses.

ULIFELINE
This online resource is for college students seeking mental health wellness. It provides tips on how to help friends in crisis and ideas for developing better wellness habits.

AMERICAN COLLEGE HEALTH ASSOCIATION
ACHA promotes healthy campus communities and is a principal leadership organization for advancing the health of college students. The organization’s website provides helplines, brochures on different types of depression, and external links.

THE JED FOUNDATION
This foundation offers online resources designed to promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college students.

HELP A FRIEND IN NEED
This initiative identifies warning signs through social media. The Half of Us campaign promotes mental health awareness nationally through on-air and live events and connects students with healthcare providers.

ANXIETY DISORDERS
Your friend may have an anxiety disorder if they display these behaviors:
Have experienced a tragic event and do not develop healthy coping habits
Appear to live in constant fear of failure — academically or socially
Are uncomfortable and extremely anxious in social atmospheres
Have trouble concentrating or seem to have a blank mind
Seem plagued with guilt or stress
Have visible panic attacks

Avoid criticizing or belittling the severity of your friend’s symptoms and encourage them to try coping strategies that avoid causing further anxiety. Encourage your friend to visit a campus healthcare or counseling center and discuss their troubles with a professional. With their permission, you might be able to contact their parent. Some of the college student referrals I receive come from friends and roommates who got worried and told their friend’s parents about their concerns.

The following organizations are excellent resources for students with anxiety disorders.

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
ADAA promotes the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, and related disorders. The association’s website offers insight into how to better understand depressive mental illnesses. Additionally, it suggests several mobile apps that cater to users with depressive illnesses.

AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
APA is dedicated to advancing the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society. Its website offers insight into the differences between anxiety disorders and depression, as well as tools to help you locate a psychologist.

ANXIETY RESOURCE CENTER
ARC is a nonprofit dedicated to offering assistance to those who have anxiety disorders. Its website features a lengthy list of education materials, a newsletter, and a blog to help visitors stay updated on breakthroughs in research and trends.

SOCIAL ANXIETY ASSOCIATION
This nonprofit maintains resources for people with social anxiety. Its website provides links to support groups, information on how to find health professionals, news and updates on the disorder, and extensive information on treatment options.

STUDENTS AND SUICIDE
Suicidal people may talk about feeling trapped, feeling as if they are a burden to others, feeling like they have no reason to go on, and ending their lives.

What to watch for if you feel your friend or roommate is at risk:
If a person talks about:
Being a burden to others
Feeling trapped
Experiencing unbearable pain
Having no reason to live

Specific behaviors to look out for include:
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
Acting recklessly
Withdrawing from activities
Isolating from family and friends
Sleeping too much or too little
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving away prized possessions
Aggression

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following
Depression
Loss of interest
Rage
Irritability
Humiliation
Anxiety

ADAA recommends these steps to take if you suspect someone you know is suicidal:
Ask them directly, “Are you considering killing yourself?” This may seem blunt. However, according to ADAA, studies show that this question does not increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts, and it’s an important foundation for the next steps.

Make safety a priority. If they answer positively to step one, ask them if they have a plan. While it may not be easy, removing lethal objects and items in the dorm or home, such as guns, can also make a big difference.

Be there for them. Sometimes the most you can do for someone is simply to be there for them when they need you. Listen to what they have to say. Acknowledge and talk to them about the realities of suicide. According to ADAA, this can reduce suicidal thoughts.

Give them the tools to help themselves. Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number — (800) 273-8255 — in your phone. If possible, also save this number in your friend’s phone.

Remain in contact. Staying in contact makes a big difference and can potentially save the life of an at-risk person.

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