Top 5 Mental Health Challenges Facing College Students and How to Get Help

Discover options for help while learning the warning signs and symptoms of the most prevalent mental health issues among college students.


Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (988) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, if you or someone you know is thinking about taking their own life. Anyone may utilize this service, and all calls are private.


  • Depression and anxiety are prevalent mental health issues among college students; many exhibit signs of severe mental illness.
  • There are resources available to assist kids in enhancing their mental health.
  • Experts and academics in the mental health field often use words like “epidemic” and “crisis” to characterize the mental health of many American college students.


About 30% of students who participated in the Fall 2021 National College Health Assessment said that anxiety negatively impacted their academic performance. Additionally, more than one in five students said they had received a medical professional’s depression diagnosis.


Mood disorders are among the numerous mental health issues many college students experience. Suicide and suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and drug abuse are other frequent problems.


The top five mental health issues that currently affect college students are discussed in this guide, along with suggestions on how to spot possible illnesses and get assistance.


  1. Depression


Depression is a mental disease marked by melancholy, despair, and lack of interest in once-enjoyable pursuits.


A depressed episode may involve mood fluctuations, sleep issues, appetite changes, headaches, and bodily aches without obvious medical explanation.


In the 2021 Healthy Minds Study, serious depression was present in 22% and general depression in 41% of college students. As a result, depression is among the most prevalent mental health problems among college students in the United States.


Symptoms of Depression


Depression symptoms might differ from person to person. The way one individual displays symptoms of depression may not always be the same as how symptoms may appear in another person.


The American Psychological Association lists the following signs and symptoms of depression:


  • Changes in sleep patterns and appetite
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or powerlessness
  • Changes in social behavior, such as withdrawing from others and isolating oneself
  • Increased pessimism (e.g., seeing the glass as half empty)
  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Difficulty comprehending and finishing tasks in school or at work


You may not be sad even if you exhibit some of these signs. However, you should consider getting expert treatment if you encounter these symptoms often.


Signs That Someone May Have Depression


Everybody has bad days when they feel stressed out or depressed about life. However, these symptoms become a reason for worry when these days become weeks and getting out of bed becomes difficult.


The following are some indications of depression among close friends, family members, and peers:


  • They stop participating in activities they formerly enjoyed;
  • They stop going to courses or social events;
  • They are very angry or unhappy about a relationship in their life;
  • They respond poorly or without enthusiasm to most things.
  • They often discuss suicide or death.


Encouragement may demonstrate to that individual that you are a source of support. To avoid saying anything like “cheer up” or “snap out of it,” however. Telling someone depressed to “get over it” won’t help since so many depressed persons are aware of their condition.


If you think someone you know is in danger, gently persuade them to get assistance and offer to go to a doctor’s visit or student health center. Although discussing their difficulties with you could be beneficial, remember that this cannot replace expert care.


Signs That You May Have Depression


Consider the following questions if you believe you may be depressed:


  • Have you ever felt utter despair or sadness?
  • Do you have a history of depression in your family?
  • Have you used drugs or binge drinking to deal with your emotions of hopelessness?
  • Have you ever had intrusive thoughts of suicide or death?


Consider scheduling a mental health exam with your primary healthcare practitioner or a staff member at your student health center if you answered “yes” to any of the above-mentioned inquiries.


Resources for Depression


The American College Health Association, Anxiety & Depression Association of America, National Institute of Mental Health, The Jed Foundation, and ULifeline are among the organizations committed to helping people suffering from depression.


  1. Anxiety


The majority of college students sometimes suffer anxiety. However, persistent or escalating emotions of anxiety, tension, and panic may obstruct day-to-day activities. Anxiety becomes a medical issue requiring treatment when it interferes with everyday life.


Anxiety was cited as the most common mental health issue affecting students in a 2016 research by Pennsylvania State University, according to 61% of survey respondents. Additionally, 1 in 3 kids tested positive for anxiety in the Healthy Minds Study.


Below are some of the most common types of anxiety disorders:


  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): People with this disorder have significant, ongoing anxiety that interferes with day-to-day activities.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD patients have intrusive and irrational worries, obsessions, and thoughts that cause them to engage in repeated actions and compulsions.
  • Panic Disorder: This illness is marked by persistent terror and frequent, unexpected spells of panic.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic incident, PTSD often develops. However, individuals may also experience trauma without going through a tragic incident.
  • Social Worry Disorder: This mental health problem shows as illogical dread, anxiety, and self-consciousness in normal social situations.


Symptoms of Anxiety


The signs of an anxiety disorder are often misdiagnosed as normal stress or excessive concern.

Panic attacks may be misdiagnosed as a medical condition like a heart attack or tension headache, depending on how your body reacts to elevated amounts of certain chemicals.


Common symptoms of anxiety can include:


  • Irritability; Lack of concentration;
  • Excessive Sweating and Dizziness;
  • Shortness of Breath;
  • Muscle Pain and Tension; Headaches;
  • Regular Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Diarrhea;
  • Feelings of Stress, Restlessness,
  • Uncertainty or Fear


It’s unclear what causes anxiety, although it may result from genetics, naturally occurring brain chemicals, events in life, and stress.


Signs That Someone May Have Anxiety


Anxiety-related activities or fleeting, infrequent emotions may not always signify a mental health issue. However, suppose your anxious emotions continue, interfere with your everyday activities or functioning, or appear as compulsive behaviors accompanied by a severe sensation of dread. In that case, it may be time to get support.


If someone you know exhibits one or more of the following symptoms, they may have an anxiety disorder:


  • Having trouble forming positive coping mechanisms after going through a stressful incident
  • Seeming to live in continual dread of failing
  • Severe discomfort in social situations
  • Difficulty focusing or the appearance of having a blank mind
  • Showing signs of shame or stress
  • Having obvious panic attacks


Avoid making fun of or downplaying how severe someone else’s symptoms are and urge them to use coping mechanisms to reduce anxiety instead. You can also suggest that your buddy or classmate use the campus mental health facilities to speak with a specialist.


Signs That You May Have Anxiety


Here are some queries to ask yourself if you believe you may have an anxiety disorder:


  • Do you routinely have anxiety-provoking or worrying thoughts?
  • Do you suffer from unreasonable or baseless anxieties that others could find?
  • Do you avoid engaging in routine social interactions because they make you anxious?
  • Do you often have jolting panic episodes with a racing heart?
  • Does your worry affect your relationships, employment, or school performance?


Consider seeing your primary healthcare practitioner or a staff member at your student health center for a mental health exam if you answered “yes” to any of the questions above.


Resources for Anxiety


Students with anxiety problems should contact the following courses:


  • the American Psychological Association,
  • the Anxiety & Depression Association of America,
  • the Anxiety Resource Center,
  • org.
  • Association for Social Anxiety


  1. Suicidal Ideation and Intent


Suicidal ideation is a tendency to contemplate or plan one’s death. Experts in mental health often classify intense or overpowering suicidal thoughts as a mental health emergency.


According to a 2018 study by Harvard Medical School researchers, 1 in 5 college students in the United States had suicidal thoughts. More recently, according to the 2021 Healthy Minds Study, 5% of student respondents had intended to commit suicide in the previous year (without attempting).


Signs of Suicidal Ideation in Others


Many students struggle with stress, annoyance, and doubt, but sometimes those emotions take on a powerful momentum that pushes individuals to the point where they may even contemplate suicide.


Suicidal ideation symptoms vary from person to person. According to the ADAA, common warning signals might be seen in a person’s speech, mood, and behavior. These consist of the following:


  • Speech: People thinking about taking their own lives may include feeling imprisoned, burdensome to others, having no reason to live, and wishing to terminate their life.
  • Mood: Suicidal ideation and intent symptoms may appear as a range of emotions, including agitation, irritation, lack of interest in things they formerly found enjoyable, anger, melancholy, and embarrassment.
  • Behaviour: Those contemplating suicide may display certain behaviors, such as parting with valued items, isolating themselves from friends and family, unexpectedly visiting people to say goodbye, and looking up how to commit suicide online. Additionally, they could use drugs and alcohol more often, conduct recklessly, act angrily, or sleep badly or too much.


It’s crucial to discuss your concerns with a classmate, friend, or family member as soon as you detect any of the actions above. It would help if you were patient and courteous while speaking to them since they can be vulnerable.


You can and should provide them with the resources they need to assist themselves and urge them to see a mental health expert. Tell them to save the 1-800-273-8255 or 988 number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on their phone. (You should also save this to your phone.)


You may seek guidance from online suicide prevention organizations like Crisis Connections if you’re unclear on how to approach someone who could be having suicidal thoughts.


Suicidal Thoughts in Yourself: Warning Signs


Suicidal thoughts often result from an underlying mental health issue. Suicidal thoughts may sometimes follow depression, which can lead to erroneous thinking. Suicidal thoughts might sometimes emerge from feeling powerless and overwhelmed due to worry.


Tell a friend or loved one if you’re considering suicide. Additionally, it would help if you got in touch with your mental health facility very away.


Keep in mind that there are crisis services accessible. If you have persistent suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (988) or 1-800-273-8255.


Suicide Prevention Resources


There are many options for preventing suicide online and in campus health facilities. The following businesses focus on mental health and preventing suicide:


  • The Trevor Project,
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness,
  • Active Minds,
  • and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


  1. Eating Disorders


The term “eating disorders” refers to a wide range of problems characterized by severe anomalies in eating patterns and a strong obsession with one’s appearance or body type. Both dietary restriction and binge eating, which may be followed by purging, are possible symptoms of these disorders.


According to data, 4% of male and 11% to 17% of female college students in the United States, respectively, screen positive for clinical eating disorder symptoms.


Here are a few illustrations of typical eating disorders:


  • Nervous Anorexia This illness often leads to emaciation and has one of the worst fatality rates among mental health problems. It is characterized by an unhealthy focus on thinness, a distorted body image, and concerns about gaining weight.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurring and frequent bouts of eating abnormally large quantities of food, followed by compensatory behaviors like fasting, purging, or excessive exercise.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: This condition is characterized by persistent desires at all hours of the day and leads to overeating. This condition is often linked to low self-esteem and a negative body image.


Symptoms of an Eating Disorder


Eating disorders may manifest in a wide range of ways. Many things rely on how the disordered person is feeling mentally.

However, several warning signs are typical of bingeing, bulimia, and anorexia, including the following:


  • Excessive activity,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • dehydration,
  • a distorted or negative perception of one’s body,
  • fear of eating in front of others,
  • and a constant need to rationalize one’s eating habits are all signs that one’s eating is out of control.


If untreated, eating disorders may be fatal and lead to major health problems such as renal failure, cardiac problems, growth retardation, menstrual irregularities, and reproductive system failure.


Signs That Someone May Have an Eating Disorder


Everybody has bad days when it comes to their sense of self. Just because you or someone else has had a few unpleasant episodes doesn’t indicate they or you have an eating problem; keep that in mind.


However, it may be time to take action if a friend or loved one constantly complains about their weight or if you notice they’ve begun missing meals or bingeing on junk food and feeling bad afterward.


When you think someone you know may have an eating issue, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:


  • Do they consume just a modest amount of food or skip meals?
  • Have they lost interest in meals they used to enjoy?
  • Do they restrict themselves to extremely low-calorie meals?
  • Do they regularly use appetite-suppressing drugs like Adderall or Ritalin or diet pills?
  • Do they abruptly leave after meals to use the restroom?
  • Do their teeth have any obvious stains on them?
  • Do they cover the stench of vomit with perfume or mints after restroom visits?
  • Do they seem worried about their weight, physique, or appearance?
  • Do they overwork themselves or struggle to take days off from exercise?


Your classmate, friend, or loved one may have an eating issue if you responded positively to any of these questions. You should seek counsel from the National Eating Disorders Association if you need assistance addressing your worries.


Signs That You May Have an Eating Disorder


You’re concerned that you may have or are developing an eating problem. Here are some questions to consider:


  • Do you avoid eating or skip meals?
  • Do you hesitate to eat in front of others?
  • Do you have a calorie count for maintaining control?
  • Do you have rigid dietary rules that you feel bad and embarrassed to break?
  • Are your weight or body shape a source of obsession or dissatisfaction?
  • Do you often consume much food and then need to purge it afterward, throw yourself up, or do something else (like exercise) to compensate for it?
  • Have you observed a lack of period or excessive hair growth on your arms and face?


Consider getting therapy if you select yes to any of these questions. It would help if you got assistance as soon as possible since eating disorders may become life-threatening.


Eating Disorder Resources


These links are a wonderful place to start if you need advice on how to support a friend or yourself through an eating disorder or if you want to learn more about eating disorders in general:


  • Academy for Eating Disorders
  • Eating Disorder Hope
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
  • American College Health Association
  • National Eating Disorders Association


  1. Substance Misuse


Alcohol and recreational substances are often used by college students, which may be troublesome.

A concrete pattern of physical and psychological dependency on one or more drugs is referred to as substance abuse. Despite being aware of this conduct’s hazards and negative effects, this disorder is often characterized by intense desires and indulgence in drug abuse.


According to Addiction Center, about one-third of American college students indicate signs of alcohol abuse. Additionally, a 2018 National Institute on Drug Abuse study found that Adderall, a medication often used to treat ADHD, was abused by 15% of male college students or 9% of female college students.


Additionally, it has been observed that college students often misuse marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, and prescription medicines.


Symptoms of Substance Misuse


Many college students who use drugs and alcohol do not get addicted. However, they may still experience the negative consequences of cessation or continued use of these drugs.


The following are some of the most typical signs of drug abuse:


  • Fear, worry, or paranoia without obvious cause; slurred speech; bloodshot eyes; or troubled coordination; susceptibility to suspicious behaviors (e.g., frequently getting into fights or getting into trouble with the law)
  • An unforeseen financial necessity or financial emergency
  • High tolerance for drug or alcohol usage (in other words, the person need to use more and more of a substance to obtain the same effects)
  • A rapid shift in friends, interests, or hobbies
  • A decline in physical appearances, such as weight growth or loss, and changes in personal hygiene practices


You may be at risk of developing a drug use problem if you are going through one or more of these symptoms. Your propensity to become addicted might be influenced by your genetics, particularly if your family has a history of alcohol or drug abuse.


Signs That Someone May Have a Substance Use Disorder


When alcohol or drug usage has changed from recreational to chronic, it’s not always obvious. Friends and family members who don’t want to acknowledge an issue may try to minimize and dispel your worries.


Asking yourself the following questions might help you determine whether someone you know may have a drug use disorder:


  • Do they use alcohol to cope with stress or numb problems?
  • Has their drug or alcohol usage affected how they interact with others?
  • Have they stopped participating in activities or schoolwork?
  • Does drug or alcohol usage dominate their lives?
  • Has their character evolved?
  • Do they have a peculiar odor coming from their breath, body, or clothing?


People who abuse alcohol or drugs sometimes hide their symptoms or minimize their Addiction. Therefore, you must voice your concerns as soon as you become aware of the warning symptoms.

Tell the individual you’ve seen their excessive drug or alcohol usage while they’re sober. Highlight the admirable sober habits you value and the alarming intoxicated or high actions they exhibit.


Avoid being accusing or judgemental since this could make them retreat and pay less attention to their problems. Offer to accompany them while they seek care at your student health center and to assist them in locating options for assistance.


Signs That You May Have a Substance Use Disorder


If you believe that you could be displaying symptoms of drug abuse, ask yourself these questions:


  • Do you experience discomfort when alcohol or drugs are not available?
  • Do you drink a lot when you’re depressed or disappointed?
  • Even if your pals claim you didn’t pass out, have you ever had trouble remembering a portion of the prior evening?
  • Has a friend or member of your family voiced worry about your usage of alcohol or drugs?
  • Have any of your biological relations ever struggled with drug or alcohol addiction?
  • Do you find it difficult to reduce drug and alcohol use?


Make an immediate appointment to visit your doctor if you select yes to any of these questions.


Substance Misuse Resources


You can learn more about the symptoms and causes of drug abuse as well as how to obtain treatment for yourself or someone you love by checking out the sites below:


  • Alcoholics Anonymous,
  • Narcotics Anonymous,
  • the Partnership to End Addiction,
  • the National Institute on Drug Abuse,
  • and the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Administration