College Students & Mental Health
Entering college is often a fun, liberating, and exciting time for most young adults. Those entering college for the first time are repeatedly told work hard, plan for your careers, and enjoy this part of your life, as this is the “best years of your life”. New found independence, without having to defer most of your decisions to one’s parents can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Incoming college students still face challenges like fitting in, meeting and establishing social circles, choosing a major, and succumbing to peer pressure (which is very different from the forces of peer pressures while living at home as parents are not around to provide ongoing guidance and support). Most graduating high school seniors can’t wait to enter college, leave home, and be on their own. However, they quickly learn being on their own and assuming more adult responsibilities can come with new found joys as well as challenges.
The stressors of leaving home, being on their own, and in a new environment can create feelings of depression, inadequacy, and anxiety. Increased stress, expectations for the future, and social media are putting more stress on today’s college students to be seen, be successful, excel academically, and make significant social connections. The demand to engage in and excel at “everything” often creates a mental health crisis for those in college. It is notable to mention although many some college students many be experiencing symptoms related to depression and anxiety, many do not seek and secure help to mitigate the symptoms. In recognition, that college life can be scary and challenging for new and existing students, colleges and universities have created multiple mental health options and resources for students.
Students suffering from depression can exhibit the following symptoms:
•Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
•Change in appetite or weight (without a desire to lose or gain weight)
•feeing of powerlessness
•Loss of interest in activities or social gatherings that they may have previously enjoyed
•Fatigue, loss of energy, sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, etc.
•Trouble concentrating, indecisiveness
•Anger or frustration for no distinct reason
•Thoughts of death & dying, and suicide
Depression is one of the most significant reasons college students perform poorly on tests, drop out of school, and self-isolate. Escalating depression can lead to more prominent symptoms or even suicide. Although, depression can be pretty common for several different reasons it can also be a very serious illness if left untreated. Depression can create interruptions in processing, disruptions in sleep, under eating or over eating, challenges at work, etc. The pressure to succeed and get ahead can be anxiety building and overwhelming, therefore, it is essential to provide students with the support and resources they desperately need (this is especially true of college freshman and college seniors) as transitioning from home life with parents to living on one’s own with new responsibilities can be difficult. College seniors face a similar feeling once they begin the process of leaving college, as this is a time they are expected to start their careers, and even if they return to their parent’s home that dynamics have been permanently changed, they are no longer children or adolescents but adults.
Carrie is a college freshman, she started college 2 months ago. Initially Carrie was filled with excitement and heightened independence. However, to her confusion she started to experience profound feelings of sadness and loss. She grieved the loss of her childhood, the loss of “the protection” afforded to her by her parents, and her former identity. Carrie struggled to make decisions on her own, make friends, and integrate into the college life. As a result of Carrie feeling she was not “fitting in” she began to withdraw from everything, her grades began to suffer, she was unable to sleep throughout the night, she was often in tears, and had lost a significant amount of weight. Carrie began to think no one would notice or even care if she were around anymore. Carrie’s dorm mate, noticing the changes in Carrie’s behavior as well as the changes in her appearance, decided to speak with a campus counselor about her concerns. Is this just a phase or should Carrie meet with a counselor?