Why We Need to Talk About College Mental Health

lit forest, sign saying hope
calm nature view, mental wellness

The College Mental Health Crisis

College students are one of the most stressed populations in the United States. Notably, some schools report that upwards of half of their student body report feeling moderate or severe stress. Between rigorous classes, essays and exams, and regular life events, this population can find it difficult to manage their mental health and care for themselves.

To help battle this issue, many universities post mental health resources and even have counseling centers. However, these resources are often underused. Students may be unaware of what their school provides or sometimes feel shame or fear about reaching out.

Unmanaged stress and untreated mental health issues profoundly affect the mind and body. For example, individuals who report feelings of intense or long-term stress often report health issues. These issues include high blood pressure, inability to sleep, depression, and memory problems. Indeed, without treatment, some people have even had heart attacks and strokes as a result.

There is help out there for students struggling with their mental health. If you need help, you can find resources here or at the bottom of this article.


So what exactly is stressing students out so much? Let’s take a look at the average student in the United States.

Firstly, more than one-in-five college students have children of their own. That statistic means 20% of the student population is raising a child while attending class. Of these parents, 53% have kids under the age of six. These students are changing diapers, trying to find quality daycare, and taking care of kids while doing homework. Notably, just 15% of universities offer childcare.

Nowadays, an estimated 70% of students work while in college. There are a variety of reasons people choose to work while studying. They may be supporting their children, family, or even just themselves. Or they could be trying to avoid student loans through a work-study program. On the other hand, some students just want extra spending money to enjoy themselves. Regardless, many spend hours at work before returning to a pile of homework.

Indeed, the average college graduate leaves school with thousands of dollars in debt. Undergraduate students accrue around $36,635 in loans. Students who earn their master’s degrees end up with about $71,287 in debt. That price tag alone is enough to cause anxiety.

On top of the above issues, college students are graduating into an uncertain job market. Over the past few years, graduates have faced the pandemic and now the possibility of a recession. Additionally, there is no falling back on jobs that only require a high school diploma. These jobs are more affected by the recession than others.

Take, for example, construction. During economic uncertainty, the building industry is among the first to be affected.

In other words, college students have a lot to worry about beyond essay deadlines.

How Poor Mental Health Impacts Students

What does a classroom full of stressed-out students look like? Basically, lower attendance, poor quality of work, and higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse.

Students struggling with stress or mental health are less likely to finish their degrees. Some simply stop attending class, while others take a semester off to never return. Notably, college isn’t for everyone, and there are other options, such as trade school. However, students who drop out don’t drop their loans. They still have to repay everything they took out – money they won’t get back from their school.

Regarding grades, students who score lower either have to retake courses or even change their major. For many, that means more time in college and more loans.

Additionally, low grades will impact students’ GPAs. While the adage of C’s get degrees remains true, some rely on scholarships and grants that require high grades. A lower grade can mean more money out of pocket.

sign saying mental health services

How to Improve & Maintain Your Mental Health in College

So what can you do to help maintain your mental health in college? You have many options. Below, we will go over a few that range from engaging in self-care to getting help from professionals. There is no one-size-fits-all option. Each student faces unique obstacles in college. While times may be difficult, you can persevere and reach your goals. Needing help is not shameful – it’s part of being human.

Engage in Self-Care

To help manage stress, consider upping your self-care routine. Self-care is the practice of improving your mental, emotional, and physical health by focusing on your needs. For some, this can be a milkshake after class, while others enjoy a run every morning. In short, there is no one right way of practicing self-care.

What people need to improve their health varies person-to-person. Consider taking a night off to party with friends or spend at home with a hot bath and your favorite movie.

Overall, stress builds up over time if you’re constantly on the move. To prevent burnout, make sure you’re taking care of your needs. Get enough to eat and drink and make sure you’re sleeping enough. Notably, lack of sleep is one of the biggest factors in declining mental health.

So set up that reward system, take a well-deserved nap, and get that overpriced cappuccino. Even if you didn’t get the best grade on an exam, you still deserve to enjoy the little things in life.

Take Off or Limit Your Semester

Sometimes, we really need a break. Maybe there was a big event in your life, you need to work more hours, or you’re just really tired. These examples are all valid. While summer semester has its perks, avoiding burnout is more important than getting a class or two out of the way.

As we mentioned, stressed students are less likely to earn good grades or finish school. Don’t sweat needing a few months off so that you return refreshed and ready in the fall.

Additionally, some students need more time off for a variety of reasons. If you or a loved one falls ill, you’re facing financial hardship, or something else has come up, see what options your college offers. Many schools allow students to take a leave of absence. You are charged no money during leave but remain a student. Thus, there is no need to re-enroll or start at a new college.

Similarly, if your finances allow, consider attending part-time. Your status often impacts financial aid. However, it may be more convenient for some to take one or two classes compared to four.

Build a Support System

Especially if you attend school out of state, university can be lonely for some. Loneliness can impact our mental health, especially long term. Thus, it’s important to build a support system.

For some, this will be easy. Others may have more difficulty finding people to connect with. Below are a few suggestions for meeting new people and finding your support system. These solutions may not fit everyone’s needs, but they’re a great place to start.

Online Options

Taking an online class or even attending an online school? Just because you’re behind a screen doesn’t mean you’re alone. You’ll often be able to speak to your classmates via a forum or messaging system. You can post to see if anyone wants to start a study group. Alternatively, if you’re clicking with someone on a discussion board, don’t hesitate to reach out to them.

Outside of your virtual classroom, you may find college events that you can attend. Maybe they’re related to your major or are on interesting new information. It’s worth checking out what’s going on at your school.

In 2020 a poll showed that the average American made six new online friends due to attending virtual events.

Clubs, Organizations, and Events

Similarly, consider finding a club or organization that matches your interests. Student-run organizations often cover a variety of hobbies and topics. You may even find a video game club on campus. Also, you may find study groups for your class or major. If you’re studying business, many schools have a business group that meets once or twice a week.

Even if you don’t have the time to join an organization fully, many have public events. Keep an eye on event boards, check out interesting-sounding events, and meet like-minded people.

Furthermore, your college might have groups dedicated to improving mental health. These types of meetings will provide a space to discuss problems you’re having, resources to find help, and supportive members who understand what you’re going through. Additionally, if you’re struggling with sobriety, groups will meet on or near campus to help students stay on top of their goals.

Don’t Forget About the People Back Home

Finally, you can still rely on your family and friends even if you’re miles away from home. Make sure to give your loved ones a call whenever you want or need to talk. Remember, they’re missing you as much as you’re missing them. They’ll be happy to hear you speak and learn about your day.

Use Your University’s Resources

Today, many in-person universities have counseling centers available to their students. The price of seeing a counselor is provided in tuition, so students don’t have to worry about medical fees for seeking help. During the pandemic, even more colleges added virtual 24/7 options. Thus, all students could get help at any time at any hour. And off-campus students could get the same assistance without needing to travel.

In addition to counseling centers, many schools will have outside resources readily available. Thus, if they’re unable to help with your specific needs, they can connect you to another organization that can.

Emergency and National Resources

Below is a list of free national resources that may be able to help.

If you or a loved one are dealing with a mental health emergency, please dial 911.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chat.

Crisis Text Line

Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the U.S. to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line trains volunteers to support people in crisis. With over 79 million messages processed to date, they are growing quickly, but so is the need.

Veterans Crisis Line

The Veterans Crisis Line is free and confidential. When you call, chat, or text, a qualified responder will listen and help. You decide how much information to share. Support doesn’t end with your conversation. Responders can connect you with the resources you need.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

National Institute of Mental Health Resources

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Use these resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member.

Final Thoughts

The mental wellness of college students is a huge concern across the country. Notably, a large portion of students report moderate to severe stress levels each year. On top of homework, lectures, and essays, students are still exposed to the world’s hardships. Finances, family, and health are today’s top concerns for those attending school. As a result of this stress, many struggle with motivation and mental health.

However, there are resources out there. Many colleges across the country provide counseling services to their students. When individuals can’t or don’t wish to go to the center, national services and hotlines can help.

Additionally, never be afraid to reach out to trusted friends and family. They aren’t replacements for mental health services, but your loved ones may be able to help in other ways.

If you need help, we recommend reaching out to one of the resources provided or a local counseling center. Indeed, these are difficult times, but you are not alone in this. We all need help sometimes, and that doesn’t make you weaker. You can still achieve your dreams. You can do hard things, whether that’s a degree, a specific job, or another goal.