The College Student Mental Health Crisis

American college students are facing a mental health crisis.


The suicide rate among young adults ages 15–24 has tripled from the 1950s and is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Leading Causes of Death Report, published in 2016, the most recent report available.


The crisis also includes a substantial increase in the number of students seeking treatment, as treatment rates increased from 19% in 2007 to 34% by 2017. As the number of lifetime diagnoses and treatments increase, experts are left questioning the factors involved in this escalation of mental health conditions among this age group.


Psychologists argue that the crisis spawns from a lack of genuine relationships, as opposed to online, superficial connections through social media. According to researchers at Baylor University, college students are the largest consumers of social media, spending 8 to 10 hours a day on their cell phones, primarily texting, sending emails and checking Facebook. The digital world sparks an abundance of comparisons and jealousy among peers, even though perception is not always a true reflection of reality. Perfectly portrayed lives can make onlookers feel inferior.


Others believe the crisis may stem from the abundance of negative news and cyclic nature of such news being on constant ‘repeat.’ Kelly Davis, the director of peer advocacy, support and services at Mental Health America said, “We’ve been trained to view the world as a much more dangerous place than previous generations and we’re constantly getting messages that confirm the world is not safe.”


While the reasons behind the crisis are important, they can differ for every individual. Once we become better at identifying students in crisis, we can begin to reverse the trend.


How to help college students in crisis


The first step in helping a peer in need is to identify the symptoms, which include deteriorating hygiene, falling asleep in class, missing classes, failing assignments or “self-medicating” with heavy use of alcohol or drugs. These symptoms could be indicators of a mental health condition.


In 2017, the American College Health Association conducted a survey of 26,000 undergraduate students to gauge the level of depression within a 12-month period. The study found that 40% of the students surveyed said they had felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”


Unfortunately, the stigmas surrounding mental health, such as prejudicial attitudes toward mental health sufferers or even a perceived or self-stigma, means that students suffering from depression may be hesitant to ask for help. The perception of discrimination can result in shame and ineffective – or a lack of – treatment.


Intervention to seek treatment for a family member, friend or even an acquaintance can be a frightening experience if you are uncertain how the person may react. The best way to begin talking to your loved one is by reserving judgement and showing you are there to help. If they are going through denial, persistent and positive encouragement will help.


Due to this fear of negative responses, the average time between the onset of symptoms and intervention is eight to ten years. The National Alliance of Mental Illness has created a Cure Stigma campaign to spread awareness on the importance of helping one another beat their battle. This campaign advocates educating yourself on how to help others seek necessary treatments. The purpose is to see the person, not the illness.


Student-run mental health education organizations are also striving to break down mental health stigmas and provide support for those who need it. Being away from home, college students may not know where to turn in times of need. But, with proper therapy, a mental health sufferer can become healthy. The college student mental health crisis can be stopped.


Havenwood provides a comfortable acute care facility for adults that need mental health counseling. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder, contact a treatment facility for help. To learn more about the breadth of services offered at Havenwood Behavioral Health, visit call us at (864) 660-6217. With proper treatment and support, you can overcome mental illness.