If you or a friend need urgent assistance, call 911 immediately, or take your friend directly to the emergency room. If you feel it’s safe, stay with your friend, or find someone to stay with them until help arrives.
The MHC College Student Mental Health Toolkit is designed to equip college students with the resources, services, and support needed to thrive as they transition into the beginning of adult life. Inside this toolkit, you will find key background information on college students’ mental health as it stands in 2023. You will also find tips for students on maintaining their mental health and well-being and advice for fostering mental health awareness on every college campus. Our aim is to provide students with digestible, accessible information to support their mental health journey and overall college experience.
The college experience provides a unique setting for young adults to continue their education and foster their personal growth and independence. Without the same level of supervision from parents, college students are presented with the opportunity to live with more freedom. With this newfound freedom can come new challenges. College students are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health concerns. Although campuses have resources and programs tailored to their student body, students do not always know about them or seek them out. According to a 2019 study by the Healthy Minds Network, 53% of college students had not heard anything about the quality of counseling services on their campuses.
The Mental Health Coalition is a group of passionate influential organizations, brands, and individuals who have come together to end the stigma surrounding mental health and transform the way we talk about mental illness.
Today’s generation of college students and young adults are much more open about their mental health and wellbeing compared to older generations, getting us closer to breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness. Despite this openness, various mental health conditions that aren’t anxiety and depression are still highly stigmatized and many young people suffer in silence. With 73% of college students experiencing some form of mental illness during their academic journey, it’s critical that mental health conversations and resources reach those who need help navigating their struggles.
Scroll through this carousel for some important statistics:
Almost one-third of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning.
More than 80% of college students feel overwhelmed by their workload.
The demand for counseling services is growing 5 times faster than average student enrollment.
Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help.
Anxiety continues to be the most common diagnosis of the students that seek services at university counseling centers.
People living with depression experience symptoms such as decreased interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed, lack of energy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. For college students, symptoms may also include difficulty completing schoolwork and lack of participation in school clubs and organizations.
DBSA offers free, online support groups to give people living with depression a safe, welcoming place to share experiences, discuss coping skills, and offer each other hope.
People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. Anxiety often manifests through physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat. Overnight, college students separate from their life at home with parents and longtime friends. They also face many new challenges, such as living with roommates, managing heavy workloads, and developing an independent identity. These external stressors contribute to a college student’s levels of anxiety.
To learn more about anxiety and find support, visit ADAA.
Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause of death among young people. Even for people without a serious mental disorder, the stress of an independent environment like college can lead to suicidal thoughts.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. Or, contact Crisis Text Line by texting ‘COALITION’ to 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor. You can also find local and international hotlines and crisis centers here.
An eating disorder is any disorder characterized primarily by a pathological disturbance of attitudes and behaviors related to food, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20% of women and 10% of men in college struggle with an eating disorder. For more information on eating disorder symptoms and treatments, check out this Crisis Text Line article.
The National Alliance for Eating Disorders offers free, therapist-led support groups for individuals who are experiencing and recovering from eating disorders, as well as loved ones.
The American Psychological Association defines addiction as a state of psychological or physical dependence (or both) on the use of alcohol or other drugs. Nearly half of college students meet the criteria for at least one form of addiction. Addiction can be devastating for college students, who may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stresses of their reality. Binge drinking is a common form of addiction found on American campuses. Stimulant medications, such as Adderall, are also commonly used other than prescribed by college students.
For more information on mental illness and mental wellbeing, refer to the Mental Health Coalition’s Roadmap to Mental Health.
You can also visit your college’s counseling or health services center to receive support on campus.
A few facts about how academic performance may be impacted by mental health:
Common student mental health conditions — such as depression and anxiety — are strong predictors of negative academic outcomes (GPA).
Students who screen at-risk for depression are twice as likely to leave college without graduating.
At the same time, mental health does not discriminate based on GPA; high-achieving students often fly under the radar when it comes to mental illness, given that faculty, parents, and peers often assume that their high grades indicate stable mental health.
COVID‐19 has taken a dramatic toll on college students’ well‐being. Based on a 2020 survey conducted by Active Minds, 20% of college students say that their mental health declined as a result of the pandemic.
48% of college students experienced financial setbacks as a result of the pandemic.
For more information about COVID-19 and mental health, view MHC’s COVID-19 Mental Health Resources.
Mental health problems are highly stigmatized for people of all ages. College students in particular may worry about their reputation, fearing judgment from peers or faculty for displaying symptoms of a mental health disorder.
When it comes to mental health issues facing BIPOC individuals, distress may be increasingly exacerbated due to a structural lockout of resources and cultural attitudes towards mental health awareness. The Mental Health Coalition compiled a list of BIPOC Mental Health Resources for students in need of additional resources.
Since mental health impacts all aspects of life, it also overlaps with gender and sexual identity. For LGBTQIA+ specific mental health resources, check out MHC’s Roadmap to LGBTQ Mental Health.
College campuses have very limited clinical services and mental health personnel for their students. This is often a result of insufficient funding. Insurance limitations, too, prevent students from seeking the services that are available on campus as many student health plans provide minimal mental health care.
Most students and parents have minimal knowledge about how and where to get help, especially if mental health care isn’t something a student’s family has experience with.
Self-care is defined as the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
Self-care is crucial to maintaining one’s mental and physical health. When we practice self-care, we do so with the intention of taking care of our mind, body, and soul by engaging in activities that bring us joy and reduce stress levels. Practicing self-care helps us value and love ourselves, ultimately resulting in a more full and vibrant life.
In college, self-care can be a difficult thing to prioritize. With newfound freedom from parents, intense academic obligations, and extracurricular activities, college students often forget to check in with themselves. It’s important to remember that self-care is not always done aesthetically. When people picture self-care, they often associate it with luxurious pampering activities like taking a warm bubble bath or cooking a fancy dinner. At college, however, self-care may look a little different. Many college students don’t have access to warm bath tubs and kitchens full of their favorite foods. Below, scroll through our list of 10 self-care practices that are free and accessible to college students. Many of these activities involve spending time alone, separated from academic studies, and are meant to help college students reset their mind and improve overall wellness.
Exercise is important for both your mind and body. Not only does it activate muscles and increase energy levels, walking can also be a great way to clear the mind. Try going for a walk around campus, finding a nearby hiking trail, or exploring a nearby city.
A critical element of mental health and wellbeing is maintaining important social connections. Make an effort to see your friends outside of scheduled classes and extracurricular activities.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most prominent struggles for college students. Create a consistent night routine that promotes relaxation and aim for 7-9 hours of good sleep. This can be a hard goal for many stressed students to accomplish; taking timed naps can also help improve mood and stress levels.
Journaling is one of the most beneficial ways to connect with oneself and promote feelings of gratitude. Try writing down things you are grateful for, things you love about yourself, and anything else that makes you feel hopeful and grounded. (P.S.- Journaling doesn’t have to be done in a notebook. Record a voice memo on your phone if that suits your desire more!)
Sometimes, the best way to practice self-care is by allowing yourself to tune out of this world and into another one. Try watching a show or movie that brings you joy and peace, allowing yourself to escape the stresses of reality for a couple hours.
Practicing yoga is a great way to connect with your body and enhance your breathing. It can also be done from anywhere, including a twin dorm bed! Check out this 25-minute yoga practice by YouTuber Jessica Richburg that can be done easily from the comfort of your bed.
Try putting on a podcast or music and cleaning your room. The act of cleaning can be therapeutic itself, and a clean space makes for a clear mind.
Even if art isn’t your forte, spending time doodling or painting is a great way to relax and escape. Try Color Therapy, an app created in partnership with Mental Health America, to promote relaxation and mindfulness through social coloring and painting.
If you only have 3-5 minutes but are in need of some self-care, try engaging in breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are a great way to relieve tension and don’t require a lot of time or space. There are many exercises that you can experiment with, such as box breathing, belly breathing, and 4-7-8 breathing. Try to find one that works best for you.
If taking a full break from work and studying isn’t possible, try alternating 20-minute work sessions with 5-minute breaks. During these breaks, you can drink water, eat a quick snack, or stretch for a few minutes. You can also use the five minutes to simply play a game on your phone or scroll through social media for a bit. There are a multitude of YouTube videos that can help you follow this technique, such as this video that includes relaxing study music.
For additional information on the ins and outs of self-care, check out MHC’s Roadmap to Self-Care.
Don’t wait to seek out mental health support. There are resources available on and off campus, whether you’re in crisis or just want to talk to someone.
Search online for your college’s counseling services, operating hours, and locations
Confide in a trusted professor, especially if your schoolwork is being affected
Talk to your dorm’s Resident Advisor (RA) if you have one — they’re there to help
Reach out to trusted peers about your feelings — they may be going through something similar
The student population is the lifeblood of the college community. It is often the students who push for change, who endeavor to make the necessary shifts in campus environments, who influence policy. As such, MHC recognizes the importance of student-led organizations and student leaders in mobilizing change and social justice awareness on campus, and seeks to lay out methods of mental health action that take into consideration the importance of student involvement.
Share your story. If you’re comfortable sharing your journey about mental health with your community, it may help others feel safe opening up to you about their own struggles. Posting about mental health awareness on your social media is another great way to normalize these conversations!
Learn to support a friend. If a friend feels comfortable sharing their mental health journey with you, learn how to better support them with the Mental Health Coalition’s Roadmap to Friends Supporting Friends.
Connect with student leaders. Reach out to student leaders of mental health organizations on campus. These people may be looking for more help in their organization. Student leaders are also great people to collaborate with on any new mental health projects.
Work with faculty and staff. Ask your professors how they’re participating in mental health conversations in classroom settings. If they’re not, offer your thoughts on how they can watch out for their students’ mental health. Request that they include information on campus mental health resources in their syllabi, to ensure all students see information about resources available to them.
Organize a Q&A. Invite students to write in their anonymous questions about college mental health. Partner with a school counselor or psychology professor to answer these questions, either at an on-campus event or through a video shared with students via email.
Amplify mental health action in Greek life. If you or someone you know is connected to Greek life on campus, brainstorm ways to create conversations about mental health within that social sphere. For example, someone could organize a workshop for different Greek life groups about how Greek life impacts mental health and how students can improve their overall wellbeing.
Join or start an Active Minds chapter on your campus to lead discussion groups and programs about mental health.
Check out the Mental Health Coalition’s searchable Resource Library database for information and tools about a variety of mental health conditions and populations.
Below is a list of additional mental health resources for college students:
Bring Change to Mind is a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging dialogue about mental health.
The American College Health Association is a nationally recognized, long running survey of college student mental health to help people understand and access the most recent youth mental health research.
10 Top Online Therapy Picks for 2022 by Healthline provides insight into the best online therapy services of 2022.
A List of Hotlines You Can Contact When You Need Help by VeryWellMind includes information about mental health hotlines to call depending on your needs.
Go Ask Alice! allows people to ask questions anonymously about general health and other topics, including relationships, sexuality, sexual health, emotional health, fitness, nutrition, alcohol, and drugs.
The Body is Not an Apology is an international movement committed to increasing self-acceptance and body empowerment.
This toolkit was authored in 2022 by The Mental Health Coalition’s college interns who are passionate about making mental health a comfortable topic of conversation for young people: Zoey FitzGerald Kidwell; Ashlee Bonsi; Sequoia Ahren; and Julitta Scheel.
Reviewed by the MHC Research Team: Naomi Torres-Mackie, Ph.D.; Khyia Ward, M.Ed., LAC; and Anna Marie Fennell, M.Ed., MHC-LP.
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