It is reported by a prestigious college in one of the Mid-Atlantic States that approximately 60% of incoming students will require ongoing mental health treatment. Multiple studies show a significant increase in college students’ mental health problems in the past few years. Campus counseling services (also referred to as student services) report not only being overwhelmed with the number of students seeking counseling, but are reporting an increase in acute and complex cases.

In past generations, going to college was an exciting time! It signaled the beginning of stepping into adulthood and independence. Studies done on the present generation of college-goers show that many of them are not mentally prepared for that step into adulthood and independence.

In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article by Rostain and Hibbs, the authors quote startling findings from two surveys that show the severity of this issue. In the American College Health Association’s 2018 survey, more than 85% of college students described feeling “overwhelmed” and 51% reported feeling at some point in the past year that “things were hopeless.” The Health Minds Study conducted a web-based survey last year involving 155,000 students from nearly 200 campuses, which revealed that nearly a third of those students received treatment at campus counseling centers.

Dr. Hibbs shared a story of her son’s experience, who after a successful first semester, fell into a depression when he was rejected by a close college friend. He subsequently isolated himself and started missing classes. Fortunately he told a friend and his parents that he felt suicidal. That opened the door to some solutions, including therapy and a medical leave of absence. He ultimately transferred to a college close to home and completed a degree.

In a university in the South, a college advisor had to call campus security when a student with bi-polar disorder had a manic episode in her office. When he learned a professor refused to change his grade from a C to an A, he became uncontrollable. The student was taken to the emergency room due to the urgency and severity of his behavior. The advisor learned that he had stopped taking his medication because he could no longer afford it due to his college expenses.

In another example, a student asked a professor for special permission to be late for class and with assignments because she suffered from anxiety. The professor referred the young woman to the university’s Student Disability Services Department. They worked with her to obtain counseling and to put class accommodations in place that would make provisions for her requests.

What contributes to the instability of today’s college students?  Rostain and Hibbs state four major factors:

  • family life in the U.S. in the face of globalization
  • home and job losses of the Great Recession
  • income insecurity and significant rates of divorce
  • influence of social media

In our blog, The Millennial Shift, Millennials surveyed acknowledged that they were not accomplished in interpersonal relationships. That missing link of interpersonal relationships, leaves young people feeling isolated when they are in distress. They feel shame and embarrassment when they require support.

So what can be done to help these students? There is a three-fold answer.

First, the preparation for college has to start long before college is in view! A list of suggestions include:

  • allowing young children to make mistakes
  • teaching children problem-solving skills
  • involving children in social organizations
  • explaining to children that feeling sad, unhappy, and disappointed are normal feelings and that is ok to ask for help when experiencing distress

Second, once these students have entered college, the school can provide counseling services, medical leaves and provide special class accommodations.

Third, significant others can make it a priority to stay personally in touch (i.e., weekly phone calls) not to be confused with texts and emails!

In sum, awareness and magnitude of the problem alerts the family, college, and student that it will require their collective efforts to resolve.

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