The transition from high school to college is one of the milestones that mark one’s transition from childhood to adulthood. For emotionally healthy young people, the transition is a challenge, positively met with plans, goals, and tests of their newfound independence. For those with some emotional instability, the transition may compound brewing stress and anxiety, a crippling disadvantage that may outweigh any educational gains hoped for. Before a student can take on the more demanding life college brings on, he must be in good physical, mental, and emotional shape to cope with inevitable triumphs and pitfalls coming his way from a new environment.
Common Mental Health Problems in College Students
Stress in college is the overwhelmingly huge trigger for mental health problems that may have been absent, hidden, or controlled during high school. A May 20, 2013 article in the Guardian states, “Those who do experience mental health problems cite coursework deadlines (65%) and exams (54%) as triggers of distress. Financial difficulties (47%), pressures about “fitting in” (27%) and homesickness (22%) also contribute to mental ill health.”
Common symptoms of mental illnesses plaguing a significant percentage of college students are:
- Depression — the most pervasive problem among the other mental issues. Depression can be dangerous as it carries the high risk of suicidal tendencies. Depression should not be left untreated. Students afflicted with depression must be aware of the triggers and symptoms and seek professional help in school if available or outside.
- Anxiety Disorders — Seventy five percent of people who have had panic attacks, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and the like have had anxiety symptoms before the age of 22. Anxiety can be debilitating when it morphs into extreme worry based on unrealistic perceptions.
- Eating Disorders — Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are common eating disorders that affect more female than male students.
- Self-Harm — Cutting, burning, or banging one’s head for the purpose of inflicting pain are signals of deeper emotional disorders.
- Substance Abuse — The abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, or recreational drugs is also a pervasive phenomenon. Even mentally healthy individuals may fall prey to a drug habit when they start using drugs to stay awake for exams or simply to have fun. The danger of substance abuse is addiction, sexual promiscuity without safety measures, and even sexual assault.
- Sleep Deprivation — Drugs, depression, or simply a radical change in lifestyle of which college life can bring on, can trigger insomnia. Bad sleep habits and chronic sleep loss can exacerbate any mental or physical health condition and even dampen coping mechanisms of mentally healthy individuals. Insomnia is also a symptom of depression and anxiety. Students need to factor in their sleep as an important necessity, one as vital as food is.
What Parents Should Know
Any adolescent can develop a mental health problem. The problem is, parents often think these problems happen to other people’s children, not their own. It is important to ascertain that your child has the emotional and mental capability to weather the ups and downs of being on their own in college.
Studies are showing that the greatest impediment to success in college is emotional instability caused by depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. For the majority of emotionally challenged students, emotional instability can spell missed opportunities in their academic and social milieu. For some whose mental health is in a more dangerous or debilitating condition, their lives could be at stake if their issues remain unaddressed. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among the college populace.
It is important to catch the first signs of a deteriorating mental health so that symptoms can be easily reversed. In such a case, communication, lifestyle changes, and treatment must be addressed in order to effect positive changes and boost coping mechanisms.
What Colleges Should Know
Colleges should be sensitive and alert to the fact that one in five of their student population may likely be suffering some form of mental health issue; but, only a rare few of their students actually avail of the university’s counselling services. In fact, only a handful would probably admit that they are suffering from anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, impulse control issues, personality disorders, substance addiction, or other mental health problems.
In this regard, universities may need to seriously look into their current student services that aim to address mental health problems. Are counselling services diverse enough to meet differing personal and psychological needs? Expanding institutional services or creating partnerships and referral services outside the school to include those such as women’s health centres, spiritual or religious organizations, substance abuse clinics, and the like may be of huge help in boosting student morale and health.