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Mental Illness Diagnoses in College are Increasing in Prevalence

This article is the third in a three-part series focused on supporting young adult students and their community as they navigate mental health concerns that can begin in college. Check out parts 1 & 2 in this series for the full picture of potential ways to access support throughout the transition to college and recognize some of the symptoms of mental illness. This series is sponsored by Alkermes, Inc.

Mental Illness Diagnoses in College are Increasing in Prevalence 

Countless challenges accompany the transition to college – new schedules, growing responsibilities and academic pressure can be overwhelming to a young adult on their own for the first time. In such a significant period of change, issues may be expected.1 But what if the challenges seem to become unmanageable or the underlying causes are more than typical transition-to-college stressors? What if the symptoms instead point to the onset of a serious mental illness? 

College-age students are frequently exposed to circumstances that place them at risk for serious mental illnesses.2These mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, often appear in a young adult’s early 20s.1,3 By the age of 25, 75% of those who will have a mental health disorder in their life have experienced their first onset.4

Early detection of a mental illness may help reduce the disease’s severity, the persistence of the initial illness and the on-set of any subsequent illnesses5. The sooner one can access support, the more quickly they can develop a care plan and begin treatment. Accessing support as early in a diagnosis as possible is important.1

Managing a mental health diagnosis is a multi-layered and complex process. While each person’s treatment and support plan is different, there are common steps, opportunities and challenges along the way. Here are a few things you may want to consider:

  • Find healthcare providers you trust. In any therapeutic relationship, it’s important to build trust through good rapport, shared decision making and mutual respect. Finding a team of healthcare professionals who you trust and who understand your unique situation and can help navigate the twists and turns of the diagnosis and treatment journey is vital.6,7 
  • Remember, you are not alone. There is an entire community of professionals, advocates and individuals living with mental illness who want to help. There are many places to get started—consider looking into resources from Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA), among others. Take advantage of these support systems!8
  • Do what is most helpful to you. Living with a mental illness is not a one-size-fits-all experience. What works for one person or family might not work for another. Consider support groups, community resources, advocacy events and activities and more, and then choose those things that make you comfortable and help you the most.7,9
  • Explore treatment options. Work with your healthcare provider to discuss the best treatment options for your health, condition and lifestyle. There are many different types of treatments for mental illness, depending on the needs of the individual. Speak with your healthcare provider to better understand all available options and remember, each person is unique and may have an individualized care plan.6,8,9 
  • Continue to seek medical care (even if things feel like they’re improving). Work with your doctor and care team to find what is an appropriate care plan for you and stick with it.6,7
  • Keep going. Early identification and appropriate assessments may help to provide students with the services they need and may help students in adjusting to student life.1,10 

By accessing support as soon as possible and taking advantage of all available resources, you can work toward your goals or help someone you care about work toward theirs.

If you are concerned, consider reaching out to a trusted medical professional in your area and/or access community resources, such as mental illness screeners, treatment locators and other educational materials, from organization like The Jed Foundation, Mental Health America (MHA) or the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). 

If you missed parts 1 and 2, CLICK HERE for more information on some of the challenges associated with transitioning to college, how that transition may impact a student’s mental health, signs that might indicate it’s time to seek support. 

This is intended as informational only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

ALKERMES® is a registered trademark of Alkermes, Inc. ©2020 Alkermes, Inc. All rights reserved. Sponsored by Alkermes, Inc. UNB-002884


1 Pedrelli P, Nyer M, Yeung A, Zulauf C, Wilens T. College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations. Acad Psychiatry. 2015;39(5):503–511. doi:10.1007/s40596-014-0205-9

2 Blanco C, Okuda M, Wright C, Hasin DS, Grant BF, Liu SM, Olfson M. Mental health of college students and their non-college-attending peers: results from the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Dec;65(12):1429-37. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.65.12.1429.

3 Gogtay N, Vyas NS, Testa R, Wood SJ, Pantelis C. Age of onset of schizophrenia: perspectives from structural neuroimaging studies. Schizophr Bull. 2011;37(3):504–513. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbr030

4 Kessler RC, Amminger GP, Aguilar-Gaxiola S, Alonso J, Lee S, Ustün TB. Age of onset of mental disorders: a review of recent literature. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2007;20(4):359–364. doi:10.1097/YCO.0b013e32816ebc8c

5De Girolamo, G., Dagani, J., Purcell, R., Cocchi, A., & McGorry, P. (2012). Age of onset of mental disorders and use of mental health services: Needs, opportunities and obstacles. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 21(1), 47-57. doi:10.1017/S2045796011000746

6 (2019). Finding a Mental Health Professional. [online] Available at:

7 Stevens GL, Dawson G, Zummo J. Clinical benefits and impact of early use of long-acting injectable antipsychotics for schizophrenia. Early Interv Psychiatry. 2016;10(5):365–377. doi:10.1111/eip.12278 (2019). Mental Health Treatments. [online] Available at:

9 (2019). Mental Health Treatments. [online] Available at:

10 Hunt J, Eisenberg D, Kilbourne A. Consequences of Receipt of a Psychiatric Diagnosis for Completion of College. Psychiatric Services. 2010;61(4). doi:10.1176/

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