Common Mental Health Issues in College Students
The idea of college being an exciting and pivotal moment in a young adult’s life is a prevalent one in today’s culture, however, mental health issues in college students is a topic that is not talked about enough. College is often our first experience with being away from home, surrounded by people our own age, going to class and forging new, independent relationships. But very few people talk about the potential difficulties of finding yourself away from your support system, and the stress that academic goals can cause.
Many different studies have found that young adulthood is the most common period for people to experience problems with their mental health. Research from the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) has found that 75 percent of people with a mental illness begin experiencing symptoms before the age of 24. An estimated 29 percent of all college students have at least one diagnosable mental health condition, the highest of any age group. Yet only about 39 percent of these young people sought help for their symptoms – the lowest of any age group.
The Most Common Mental Health Issues in College Students
While many mental health conditions share indicators, they also typically have at least a few symptoms that are unique. Whether you are the parent or relative of a college student, or are a college student yourself, paying attention to behaviors and habits can help alert you to potential mental health issues in college. The issues that currently pose the highest risk to mental health in college students include ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and depression.
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a relatively common mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to focus and sit still. This condition is actually caused by differences in brain development, and is thought to be caused by genetics. Males are three times as likely as females to be diagnosed with ADHD. When left untreated, it can cause serious issues with a young person’s ability to perform in college, leaving them feeling overwhelmed by class work and often only managing poor grades. This significantly increases the risk of dropping out. Signs of ADHD include an inability to sit still, fidgeting, being unable to concentrate on tasks, impulsive actions, being excessively talkative, interrupting others, and being unable to wait your turn.
There are a variety of anxiety disorders, ranging from mild to severe. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobia-related disorders. Many studies have found them to be the most common mental health issue cited by students who do seek help. The most common signs of an anxiety disorder include feeling on-edge or wound-up, difficulty concentrating, excessive fatigue, being irritable or tense, sleeping problems, having panic attacks, or having an extreme, irrational fear of an object or situation.
Bipolar disorder is another mental health concern that can range from mild to severe. The median age of onset for this disorder is 25, which means that many people who develop it will begin showing symptoms in college. It is characterized by severe mood swings (manic vs. depressive) that affect how a person feels and behaves.
Common symptoms of manic episodes include being abnormally upbeat, energetic, agitated, jumpy, and euphoria. The most severe types of bipolar disorder may even experience hallucinations or delusions during manic episodes. During depressive episodes, the symptoms will be almost the exact opposite. Extreme lethargy, sadness, loss of interest in activities, anger, depression, and low motivation can all be signs of a bipolar depressive episode. Both types of episodes can last days, weeks, or even months, and can also be associated with suicidal thoughts.
Eating disorders may still be thought of by some people as being a choice, but they have in fact been diagnosed as serious mental disorders. An estimated 20 percent of college students develop an eating disorder, and if left untreated eating disorders can be fatal. There are well over a dozen different eating disorders; some of the most common symptoms include noticeable fluctuations in weight (either up or down), being excessively focused on weight/caloric intake, refusing to eat certain foods or frequently trying fad diets, large amounts of food disappearing in a short period of time, evidence of “purging” after meals, or excessive use of laxatives or diuretics.
Studies on depression among college students have found that it is perhaps the most common mental health concern for this age group. An estimated 30 percent of college students experience depression severe enough to affect their ability to function. There are a few different types of depressive disorders, some of which can also cause anxiety issues. The most common symptoms of depression include trouble concentrating, short-term memory problems, feelings of worthlessness or helplessness, hopelessness, changes in sleeping patterns, loss of interest in activities, changes in eating habits, persistent sadness, and suicidal thoughts or actions.
Mental health issues in college students doesn’t just affect their behaviors and habits; it also increases the chances of dropping out. Untreated mental health symptoms can lead to many debilitating side effects, from chronic aches and pains to feelings of isolation, and even frequent absences from class. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that about 86 percent of students with an untreated mental illness left school without completing their degrees.
You do not have to let mental health issues affect your ability to be successful in college – there are many different ways that you can seek help. All college campuses have resources for students who are struggling with their mental health. You may even be able to get accommodations that will help you to cope with classwork while having your mental health issues treated. This can include things like preferred seating, separate exam rooms, extra breaks during class, deadline extensions, and more.
If you are experiencing the negative effects of mental illness, and your on-campus resources are not working for you, contact us today. At Launch Centers, our goal is to empower young adults with our holistic mental health services. No matter what your symptoms, we can help by diagnosing your illness and recommending appropriate treatment – all so that you can get back to feeling like your old self once again.