How We Can Solve the College Mental Health Crisis
College can be one of the most exciting and rewarding times of a person’s life. It can also be one of the most stressful times a person might ever encounter. Mental illness is a topic that isn’t often discussed when it comes to college, but it’s one of the biggest problems facing young students today.
Why is mental health such an important topic for college students, and what can we do to help solve the crisis that is facing college students both in America and around the world?
College students, and young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, are at the highest risk for developing a mental illness. Many young people experience their first episode during this time period. There are a number of theories as to why this age bracket is most at risk, including:
1. Hormone changes.
The brain is still developing as individuals enter young adulthood.
High levels of stress have been associated with the emergence of mental illness symptoms.
College students are more likely to experiment with alcohol during their time at school, which has also been associated with mental illness symptoms. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder are most commonly diagnosed during a young adult’s time in college, but they aren’t the only possible diagnoses. Surprisingly, students are not abusing drugs like marijuana as much, as they are actually being used to treat some cases of mental illness.
Mental illness is a very touchy subject for a lot of people. It is often negatively portrayed in the media, and even mentioning a mental illness can evoke a negative response. This negative stigma can discourage people from seeking help for their mental illnesses, especially in college, when many are likely to be more concerned about the opinions of their peers.
How to spot the symptoms:
There is often a distinct lack of information on mental illness and even less accurate information available for students and instructors. Knowing the basic symptoms of mental illnesses can help both the people who are experiencing those symptoms and their friends and loved ones.
Each diagnosis will be different, and two people with the same diagnosis might present totally different symptoms. Generally, though, you can look for:
1. Changes in behavior
You might miss classes or blow off social engagements you would have otherwise enjoyed.
2. Slipping grades
This is often tied to the behavioral changes. Skipping classes can lead to failing grades.
3. Weight changes
Gaining or losing weight in a short period of time could be a symptom of mental illnesses like depression or anorexia.
4. Physical changes
Other than weight loss, symptoms like headaches, hair loss and other physical changes could be indicative of a change in mental state. If you don’t know what to look for, these symptoms and behavioral changes can be easy to overlook.
How you can open the door:
The biggest change we can make to help address the current college mental health crisis is to provide support for those who ask for help, and information for those who want to learn how to help. We need to create an “open door” policy for focusing on mental health.
Colleges can help by keeping a psychiatrist or therapist on staff that students can visit for help. Having someone on campus, someone students can go to without worrying about making a doctor’s appointment or talking to their parents, might encourage more students to reach out for help.
Check with your school’s office to see what services they have available. If they don’t offer any mental health services, try contacting the dean of students or another similar official to see what changes can be made to make mental health resources available to students.
College, for many young adults, marks the first step into the real world and for many students, it can be stressful and overwhelming. Mental illnesses are most likely to manifest during early adulthood, so creating supportive environments where students can ask for help on campus is the next logical step toward countering the mental health crisis that is appearing on college campuses across the country.
A version of this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.