College Students Face Mental Health Challenges

By Olivia Libowitz
Elm Staff Writer

As fall rolls in, have you been feeling stressed, sad, or worn out? That’s OK. Just go outside, get some fresh air, drink tea and eat more healthy food. Now that you’ve done that, let’s talk about actual ways to handle your mental health in college.

If those pieces of advice just now felt a little patronizing, that’s because they are. According to a USA Today survey, those are the words of advice most commonly given to students who reported to their campus counselors feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression. This implies that the problem is all in the individual’s mind. That mentality is harmful for several reasons, especially because it implies the individual with the problem must solve it all on their own.

Let’s backtrack a little. How are you feeling? Don’t worry—even if life is fine, school is going great, and your hair looked amazing today, you’re still allowed to say you’re not feeling well. Time magazine, in an article written by Maya Rhodan, reported that one in five adults will experience mental health problems, and most of those mental illnesses kick in before or around the time the individual is 24. That means that college is prime time for young adults to begin experiencing mental health concerns.

At this point you’re thinking: this is an opinion article…what’s the opinion, that being sad is bad? No kidding. To be honest, my opinion on handling mental health in college is that it’s getting easier and easier every day, but it can only improve if we begin to be more open about it. The community formatting of college campuses may make it easier to feel as though you’re isolated—it certainly can make you more stressed—but it is also full of resources that are harder to come by once you graduate. It’s true, college is a bit of a safety net, but creating change for mental health starts by acknowledging the issue.

The same Time article reaffirmed a well-known fact: the people who are most likely to struggle with anxiety and depression in college are students of color, student athletes,  performers, and those with the highest GPAs. Essentially, the students who are under extreme amounts of academic or social pressure. In an anonymous survey done by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 32 percent of students questioned reported feeling consuming bouts of anxiety and depression, but only 12 percent of students said they’d tried to get counseling.

We’re all still so afraid to admit we’re not OK. There’s a worldwide stigma that prevails against those who suffer with mental illnesses, and it needs to be squashed. It hurts those who live openly with those mental illnesses, and further hurts those who suffer with them quietly. There has to be a way to become open about this. Schools across the country are creating—and are being hounded by some for creating—safe spaces in public buildings. We have several safe spaces across our campus, including our Counseling Services Center, and even some in our library.

The Safe Space program is one resource for struggling students at Washington College.
The Safe Space program is one resource for struggling students at Washington College.

These safe spaces act as a place for someone to get to be alone for a few minutes and decompress. If you’re new to college, you may notice how hard it is to get alone time. These rooms are designed to help alleviate that problem. Our school has a lovely counseling team who want to help, Puck the therapy dog on every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, and other resources designed around encouraging students to come forward and talk about what they’re experiencing. Once you leave college, it becomes harder to access these resources, at least not for free.

I know, though, that it’s hard now, too. Last night at 2 a.m., while sitting on my floor drinking my third cup of coffee and trying not to cry on my statistics homework, I changed my cover photo on Facebook to a picture which read, “I have literally never been more OK.” It made me laugh, which was nice at 2 a.m. More importantly, it made another friend text me and ask if I was having a stressful night, just like they were. That is why we need to encourage open honesty about our mental health. Because you’ll find you’re a lot less alone than you may have thought.

In college, a place which is your community for four years whether you like it or not, you can find help in self-care, like going outside and drinking tea. You can also find help in counseling services and talking to professionals, and I highly recommend that you do. If you look, you can also find help in the other students on campus. College is a transitional space, but when you’re ready to open up about it, the community of people who understand and want to support you will be even more overwhelming than the negativity.

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