Hadley Tarantino, M.A.
Mental Health on College Campuses
“College is the best four years of your life.” This is a common saying which lends the idea that college is full of excitement, fun times, and pure happiness. It is true that college may be the best four years of a student’s life, but there is no doubt that college can bring some of the biggest stressors that same student has ever experienced, as well. These may include moving away from home, extracurricular activities, and a heavier workload. As a result of this stress and tension, mental health issues may arise. Some students may have never struggled with their mental health in the past, but the big move to college may be a precipitant for troublesome psychological concerns. Anxiety, stress, depression, and mood disorders may begin or pre-existing symptoms may be exacerbated in students on any college campus. Although these problems may have crippling effects, mental health care on college campuses has drastically improved. Resources such as therapy services, counseling, and peer support groups are available for those students seeking support.
Unfortunately, mental health problems are widespread and seem to be increasing on college campuses (Lipson, 2015). Many lifetime mental illnesses have a typical onset in individuals in their early 20’s making college campuses a breeding ground for beginning mental health issues. College campuses are also a unique place to identify and prevent psychological problems. A recent study by Lipson et al. (2015) found that mental health problems are more prevalent at institutions with the following characteristics: large enrollment, public, and nonresidential. This is useful knowledge for mental health professionals who may consider aiming their efforts at these types of institutions before addressing smaller, private schools.
COMMON MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ON CAMPUS
Particular mental health issues that arise often on college campuses include depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
Depression is perhaps the most prevalent mental health issue on college campuses.
Stigma against depression and its symptoms can harm students’ abilities and desires to seek mental health treatment on their campus. Depression may take the form of recurrent sad moods, tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and sometimes suicidal ideation. It may be difficult to diagnose without the interference of outside sources such as peers or mental health professionals. With that knowledge in tow, it is important for students to be cognizant of their mental health and remain open to seeking help if they themselves exhibit these symptoms or witness these indicators of depression in peers. According to Lipson et al. (2015), students at large, public institutions are more likely to screen positive for depression. This may be because of the tendency for students to not receive specific, individual attention from authority figures, such as professors, or because of the tendency to isolate or become lonely on campus.
Anxiety is also a common disorder given the environment of a college campus. Pending deadlines, difficult exams, and a newfound independence may all be contributing factors for an anxiety diagnosis. Students are introduced to a different, perhaps more difficult level of work and school material which requires a certain level of independence to conquer on its own. Without the help of parents or tutors, anxiety may set in once the student experiences their life as unmanageable or overwhelming.
Although mental health issues may appear to be running rampant on college campuses across the country, great strides are being made in efforts to decrease psychological problems in students and increase healthy ways of coping. To achieve this, college health centers are increasing their number of available psychological services and attempting to make mental health a more comfortable topic to approach. There is no requirement to have formal mental health services on college campuses, and there has been no formal data on the number of students seeking this form of help to date, but there have been generalizations made about certain types of help available to students.
ELEMENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM ON CAMPUS
According to Eisenberg, Hunt, and Speer (2012), there are three main categorizations for developing mental health programs on college campuses: stigma reduction and education campaigns, screening and linkage programs, and gatekeeper training.
STIGMA REDUCTION AND EDUCATIONAL CAMPAIGNS
Stigma reduction and education campaigns refer to ways to educate the student body about stigma toward mental illness, types of mental illnesses, and healthy ways to maintain mental health. Speakers, performances, flyers, and weekly campaigns dedicated to mental wellness help accomplish this task. Active Minds is a nationwide organization dedicated to helping decrease stigma toward mental illness. Many college campuses have a chapter which holds meetings and creates different campaigns to reach the student body.
SCREENING AND LINKAGE PROGRAMS
Screening and linkage programs include surveys or questionnaires screening for mental illness given to students. The students are then linked to appropriate mental health services if they screen positive or more likely to be at risk for certain mental issues.
Lastly, gatekeepers are people who have repeated contact with the student body, such as faculty members, resident advisors, or peer leaders, and are trained to recognize and refer people to appropriate mental health services. They are most commonly trained to identify suicidal ideation.
Although mental illnesses may be on the rise, college campuses are making tremendous progress in focusing their attention on mental health services and adding these interventions.
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