You may have been dreaming of “the college experience” for a long time. You may have been yearning for the opportunity to break out on your own, to begin living life on your own terms, rather than under the ever-watchful eyes of your parents or guardians. However, every college student realizes sooner or later that the college experience isn’t always all it was cracked up to be. In fact, for many students, college can be overwhelming, frightening, and even downright heartbreaking at times.
Fortunately, students, families, faculty, and administrators alike are increasingly recognizing the mental health challenges that so often accompany college life. Even more importantly, they are taking proactive steps to help prevent them, and it’s often the students themselves who are leading the way.
Indeed, with college students increasingly advocating for more mental health programs on campus, they’re demonstrating that you don’t have to risk your mental and emotional wellbeing in the pursuit of academic excellence. With the appropriate mental health support, students can enjoy both academic success and optimal mental health.
Destigmatizing Mental Illness on Campus
One of the most important aspects of mental health advocacy by college students is simply the stigmatization that results. Now more than ever, college students are opening up about the mental health challenges they face and the ways that college administrators, faculty, and fellow students can intervene with support, understanding, and evidence-based solutions, from counseling to peer support to medical interventions.
As the discourse surrounding mental health expands on college campuses nationwide, so too do efforts to accommodate students’ psychological needs. This includes the proliferation of “safe spaces” on campus, areas where students can go to decompress when they need refreshment and solitude at the end of a challenging day or where they can find a listening ear when they need counsel and comfort.
As college campuses embrace the discussion of mental health and the cultivation of environments that support students’ mental well-being, they are also simultaneously creating a more diverse and inclusive environment.
This is particularly true for students who may otherwise have been reluctant or unable to attend college due to a pre-existing mental illness. With increasing awareness and accommodation of mental health issues, faculty and administrators alike are better trained and more fully equipped to support the health and success of students with mental illness.
For instance, college campuses provide an array of resources for students experiencing psychological and emotional challenges, including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders (SUD), and even hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders (ADHD). These resources typically include mental health counseling, student learning/academic support centers, and programs designed to provide individualized support for students with disabilities and those experiencing physical and mental illnesses.
As students’ understanding of mental health increases on campuses, so, too, do opportunities for students to engage in behaviors that protect their mental well-being. For example, research has shown that the profound mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic include not only stress, anxiety, and depression, but also significant and pervasive sleep disturbances.
The phenomenon, often referred to as “coronasomnia,” speaks to the sleep deprivation that vast segments of the population are currently experiencing due both to the distress of the pandemic and the disruptions in the daily routine that the virus has instigated. Because college students are always already at high risk of sleep deprivation because of academic and social pressures, the amplification of the issue in the post-pandemic era means that college students today are at especially high risk of suffering the mental health harms of sleep deprivation.
As a result, faculty, administrators, and support personnel should educate students in cultivating proper “sleep hygiene.” This, along with the use of counselors, safe spaces, and other mental health resources is helping students cultivate a lifestyle that supports their mental well-being while increasing their chances for academic success. For example, college mental health programs are helping students learn to manage college stressors, thus reducing the risk of depression, anxiety, and burnout.
College can indeed be a magical time of life. Students may be living away from home for the first time. They are taking their first real steps into adulthood. They are discovering who they are and what they want their future to look like. However, along with these important rites of passage come myriad stressors for which college students may be unprepared, including academic, financial, and social pressures. It is little wonder, then, that college students should be at risk for developing mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. However, college students’ advocacy for more mental health programs is going far to destigmatize mental illness on campus and cultivate learning environments that support students’ mental well-being, inclusion, and academic success even in the face of mental health challenges.
Huge thanks to Frankie Wallace for this guest post. Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing about education, personal development, and technology. Frankie spends her free time cultivating her zero waste garden or off hiking in the mountains of the PNW with her loved ones.