college students and mental health

Going to college for the first time can be exciting, stressful, and scary. Between work, extracurricular activities, late-night study sessions, and classes, students sometimes may have a hard time balancing it all.

College also means learning to adapt in often unexpected ways – from learning to live on your own for the first time, to meeting new people, to figuring out how to function on very little sleep. All of these new changes and responsibilities have the potential to impact both your physical and mental well-being.

Because of all the changes that college brings, many students report depression, anxiety, and having a hard time functioning while attending college. So if you’re currently in college and feeling like you’re drowning under the pressure, you are not alone. There are resources out there that can help. However, many college students do not know where to turn for mental health services.

Often, college kids use excuses for not seeking out sources for mental health help such as, “I don’t have time,” “I can’t afford it,” “I’m not that stressed,” or “I can handle this on my own.” College students in particular, often overlook their mental well-being because they think that struggling is just part of being in college. Students don’t want to appear weak by asking for help.

Let’s clear up some misconceptions because there are many benefits that students can gain by taking advantage of mental health services at school. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Help is not just for those in crisis.

Many students wait to go to counseling because they say they don’t feel “bad enough” to go. Even if it seems like you’re just dealing with life’s basic stressors (homesickness, lack of sleep, or a bad exam grade), talking to a mental health provider may help you tackle those stressors more efficiently and prevent a slow buildup of stress that can be much more difficult to conquer on your own down the line.

Counseling can also help you manage more serious issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and body image – all of which are concerns among students on a college campus. You also may not understand the severity of what you’re going through until you discuss it with a professional. A therapist can help you spot signs of mental health issues earlier and teach you the skills to deal with them.

  • No one needs to know.

Though it is getting more widely accepted, there is still a stigma around mental health. It’s important to understand that even if you feel nervous or embarrassed about your friends or family finding out, remember that therapists are bound by their professional code to protect your information, except in specific instances (for example, if your counselor has reason to believe that you may harm yourself or others, there are necessary steps the therapist will have to take to promote the safety of all parties involved).

You can also inquire about over-the-phone sessions if you feel uncomfortable walking to a specific building or a therapist’s on-campus office. That way, you can have your session in a more discreet space, such as a dorm room or apartment, if you prefer.

Also remember that though the stigma remains, great strides have been taken in people seeking out mental health treatment. In fact, a research study shows that roughly 30% of people surveyed between 1990-1992 had a mental health condition at almost the exact same percentage that was found in those surveyed between 2000-2002. However, despite similar base rates, the numbers of folks who sought treatment had almost doubled in the same period.  What changed is that people were seeking treatment options because of less stigma attached to mental health.

  • It doesn’t have to be a weekly commitment.

Although consistent treatment is often the most effective, you can do therapy on your terms. This is especially helpful for college students who are already balancing life between classes. You can certainly go weekly but also could work with your counselor to set a unique schedule as needed such as once a month or every other week. After meeting with a counselor a few times, you may also consider phone sessions to make it easier to connect around your schedule.

  • You can find the right therapist.

Many times the first therapist you see will be able to help you but know that you can request a different therapist if the first one you see isn’t a match. You should be able to open up with your therapist and if that is not the case, you can shop around for a therapist who fits your needs and personality. If you don’t get a good gut feeling from the first person you meet with, you can ask to be assigned to someone else and keep looking for the right fit. This may be a bit harder on campus if you have a limited number of counselors, however, don’t feel bad about speaking up and letting your therapist know she/he is not for you. Therapists are professionals and understand that the fit need to be right.

  • It might even be free (or cheaper than you think).

Many college health centers offer free (or extremely low cost) sessions for students currently enrolled in the college. After college, you can talk to your counselor about continuing sessions with another professional off campus, especially since basic mental health services are now covered by most insurance providers.

If you don’t have insurance, your on-campus therapist can refer you to providers who may provide low-cost treatment, such as counselors who offer sliding scale payment options (which means that you pay an adjusted rate based on what you can afford). Another option would be asking if your college health center offers low- or no-cost sessions with supervised graduate students. This is a great way for the graduate student to earn hours toward their degree or license while you still get the help you need.

  • Learn about other campus resources.

You may benefits from other resources the college may offer such as certain academic accommodations on the basis of mental health concerns, recommendations for disability services, or on campus groups, workshops, and other services. Your on-campus therapist may know of other services in the area that she can match you with. Knowing what resources are available to you before you need them can help you better handle any unexpected crisis.

  • You will feel empowered. 

Just taking that first step to make an appointment or learn more about what resources exist on your campus is actually doing a huge favor for yourself. And you deserve that. It can feel really empowering to do this one small thing for yourself. So if you think it might be helpful for you, call your health center to take steps toward prioritizing the most important person in your life – you!

No college student should go without needed mental health treatment that is necessary for their wellness and academic success. If you are feeling overwhelmed about the stresses of college, give one of our caring counselors a call at 402.991.0611 and we can help navigate the transitions of college life together.

References:

Alcee, M. (2019). The State of Mental Illness on College Campuses. In Affordable Colleges Online. Retrieved from https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-student-mental-health/

Dilling, S. (2017). College Students Reveal What They Wish They Knew Before Going to Therapy for the First Time. In Spoon University. Retrieved from https://spoonuniversity.com/healthier/college-students-wish-they-knew-before-going-to-therapy

Morris, M. (2018, November). How to Help Your College Student Access Mental Health Care. In Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/college-wellness/201811/how-help-your-college-student-access-mental-health-care