How the mental health crisis is affecting college students (includes multimedia content)

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According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019, 1 in 5 American adults experienced some form of mental illness. Among those are college students who seem to be the ones suffering most from mental health problems. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) revealed that 75% of mental illnesses are established by the age of 24.

What is causing these struggles? What other factors contribute to young people’s distress, and what can we do to lift some of the weight off their shoulders?

College is a difficult time for many people, it is a transition period where students learn to interact in the real world and get a taste of what life as an adult is like. Balancing classes, jobs, and social lives can be a lot to bear. It’s expected that some students will experience pressure and anxiety. In fact, anxiety disorders are among the most common ailments that college students experience. A survey conducted by The Association for University and College Counseling Center says that 41.6% of college students said that anxiety was their top presenting concern.

What are some environmental factors that contribute to these feelings of anxiety and concern? In a study done by the Statista Research Department, over 70,000 clinicians were asked this very question. Many reported that their college student patients were suffering from anxiety or depression, but other factors were also mentioned as contributing factors. While It varies from person to person, three of the leading causes seemed to be relationship struggles, family, and stress.

I spoke to Julia Gomez, a fellow student at FIU. Julia has a little-known condition called Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NLVD) that affects organization, attention and non-verbal communication. Because her disorder is so unrecognized, Julia was diagnosed with ADHD, the closest known counterpart.

When I asked Julia what caused her the most mental stress at school, she said her concerns were with returning to in-person classes after a year of remote learning.

“It was like, ok, I have to start mentally preparing to go to school all over again, I have to start mentally preparing to like it’s just me putting on a t-shirt in my pajama pants and showing up on zoom,” she stated.

For some students, anxiety and depression will only come up during the most challenging times. For others, mental illness could be something they deal with for the rest of their lives, which could lead to problems like a drop in school performance or emotional imbalance. A survey conducted by NAMI says that over 64% of students drop out of college due to mental health issues.

The challenges don’t end there, unfortunately. Mental illnesses could grow in severity and lead to dangerous outcomes. One of the most dreadful effects is suicide, which is a very real risk for young adults.

When you are having mental health problems, the best thing you can do is seek professional help. Unfortunately, it seems that students just aren’t seeking help. NAMI estimates that 40% of students with diagnosable mental illnesses don’t look for help. Here are some resources for anyone who is struggling with a mental illness or just needs someone to listen.

For immediate assistance, call these mental health helplines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1–800–273-TALK (8255)
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1–800–662-HELP (4357)
  • The ADAA: (240–485–1001) provides information on prevention, treatment and symptoms for all kinds of mental illnesses.

Seek the assistance of a licensed professional, whether in person or online, through telehealth services. Here are some popular teletherapy sites:

  • Betterhelp
  • Talkspace
  • NOCD

As far as what schools like FIU can do to help students who are struggling with mental health, Julia had a few suggestions. “No graded attendance, more counseling, people who actually care if you’re getting better or getting worse.”

She also had an idea for those days when students can’t attend in-person classes because of personal issues.

“Just bringing back zoom classes, even if not completely on zoom, but ok a student can’t make it, let them be on zoom.”

College is meant to be a time of exploration and self-discovery and mental health can get in the way of some of those incredible life experiences. With more readily available resources and support, students can have the opportunity to better themselves mentally and get back to what’s truly important to them.

Maria Ubeda is currently an undergraduate student at Florida International University and is studying to get her bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She hopes to one day work in the news industry as a journalist and writes stories that make an impact on the lives of the readers.