Why Do College Students Struggle With Mental Health?
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About 73% of college students struggle with their mental health at some point during college. Also, in a 2020 Active Minds survey, 20% of college students said that the pandemic made their mental health worse.

If you’re a college student, then you know that college can be a stressful experience. College students may struggle with their mental health for these reasons:

  • Feelings of isolation — College represents a major life transition. It may be the first time that you’re living away from home. As a result, you may feel isolated from family and friends at home. These feelings may lead to you staying in your dorm room and/or skipping class. These behaviors are common indicators of depression.
  • Academic stress — Both the class schedules and workload at college differ from high school. For example, rather than having six classes a day, you may only have two classes. This change may lead to you feeling like you have more time to do homework than you actually do. Furthermore, you may be interested in pursuing medical or law school after graduation, which requires maintaining a high GPA. Feelings of academic stress may cause you to procrastinate and then feel even more academic stress. This cycle may lead to burnout and depression.
  • Uncertain career path — Many students are unsure what they want to do after college. However, as colleges typically require students to declare a major by either their sophomore or junior year, students may believe that there’s something wrong with the way they’re feeling. If you feel overwhelmed, then you may decide not to schedule an appointment at your school’s career center.
  • Poor hygiene or eating habits — Mental health issues are closely related to poor hygiene and/or poor eating habits. College differs from high school in that there is no set lunch period. As a result, you may struggle with creating your own eating schedule. If walking into a crowded cafeteria feels overwhelming, you may eat high-sodium foods for convenience. Also, if you feel depressed because of isolation from family and/or academic stress, then you might stop eating and/or showering. These behaviors can worsen your mental health, continuing a cycle of negative coping skills.
  • Lack of sleep — Like poor hygiene or eating habits, a lack of sleep is correlated with mental health struggles. College students may not get as much sleep because of struggling to adjust to the increased workload. This lack of sleep may make it difficult for you to focus in class, potentially leading to poor grades. You may try to improve your grades by pulling all-nighters, which can make you feel even more tired. Over time, you may feel depressed because of your struggle to keep up with your work.
  • Hesitancy to get help — Even if your college offers free mental health resources, you may feel embarrassed to look into them or that your problems aren’t important. These feelings can worsen if you try to open up to a friend or family member and don’t feel supported.

Ways that college students can improve their mental health

While improving mental health may seem overwhelming, it can be manageable if you focus on a few clear goals:

  • Meet physical needs — Your mental health can worsen if your physical needs aren’t met, so it’s important to take care of those needs. To do this, you should create small goals. For example, if you’re struggling to eat more nutritional foods, start by switching out any high-sodium snacks (e.g., a bag of potato chips) with some protein (e.g., a bag of pistachios). If your physical needs are being met, you may feel more present during class, which may reduce academic stress.
  • Use an available support system — Each college student’s support system looks different — it may include friends, professors, advisers and/or athletic coaches. Pick a person you trust to open up to about your mental health struggles. This person may be able to direct you to school and/or community resources.
  • Get involved in student organizations — Getting involved in student organizations can help you get out of your head and focus on something outside of yourself. A student organization may even help you develop better time management skills, which can ease academic stress and reduce the likelihood of burnout. For example, joining your school’s newspaper team may give you the practice you need to get more comfortable meeting writing deadlines.
  • Use your school’s mental health resources — It’s important to be aware of your college’s mental health resources so that if a crisis does come up, you know how to get help. Mental health resources offered at colleges may include individual counseling appointments, group counseling, and a nonemergency mental health line. Individual counseling appointments are great because you talk to a counselor about any mental health struggles you’re having. Group counseling can be beneficial because you can listen to other college students and realize that you’re not alone. 

Mental health websites are also a resource students can use. For example, Aggie Mental Health is a website for UC Davis college students to learn about signs of mental health struggles and develop positive coping strategies. 

Lightfully U can help college students struggling with mental health

If you’re a college student struggling with your mental health, you may feel overwhelmed and isolated. But you’re not alone. 

At Lightfully, we provide treatment that’s supported by evidence and data. This treatment prioritizes you as a whole person — not just your struggles or a mental health diagnosis. 

For college students, this treatment plan is implemented virtually through Lightfully U, a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP). This program can help college students receive the mental health support and care they need in a safe, welcoming space. A Lightfully U vIOP includes:

  • An initial psychiatric assessment
  • 10 to 15 sessions with a peer group led by a mental health professional per week (peer groups are capped at 10 students, allowing for a more personalized experience)
  • An individual session with an experienced primary therapist every week
  • Experiential activities intended to help you apply the skills you’re learning in your therapy sessions to real-life situations

Change is possible. If you’re interested in learning more about improving your mental health, you can contact us. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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