Mental Health Care for College Students

College and stress are synonymous.

Media has covered a lot of tragedies in recent years that have taken place on college campuses across the country. The inevitable question that always arises is, “why didn’t this person get the help they needed?” Even without the extreme cases of homicide that we hear about on media stations, the average college student has stressors and pressures that can result in decreased quality of life and risk for self-harming behaviors.

Common challenges college students face, on top of academic pressures, include anxiety, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders and substance abuse problems; 80% of college students report experiencing daily stress, and 9% have seriously contemplated suicide during the past year (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2008).

Risk Factors

College students who are facing mental health challenges face increased risks of drop out, lower GPA and unemployment, as well as increased risk of suicidal ideation (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2008).

In institutes of higher learning, one might assume that students would have easy access to the assistance they need in these circumstances, but studies have shown that this often isn’t the case. In a survey in 2011, 50% of those who dropped out of school as a result of mental health needs did not access mental health services (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Barriers to Treatment

Students who do not access resources offer explanations that include fear of stigma associated with mental health treatment (36%), being too busy (34%), hours of services being too limited (25%), lack of information about services (24%) and too long of a wait for services (16%).  In a national survey of 14,000 college students, black, Latino and Asian students are even less likely to access mental health services than white students, as a result of financial barriers, fear of stigma, not knowing where to access services and lack of time (Miranda, Soffer, Polanco-Roman, Wheeler and Moore, 2015).

Mental Health Resources for College Students

When asked what is needed to help meet the mental health needs of college students, surveyed students reported that they would have benefited from receiving accommodations, tutoring and a lower coarse load; access to mental health services and supports on campus to help address academic pressures, earlier access to mental health services, peer support groups, walk in health center, individual counseling, crisis services and 24 hour hotlines (NAMI).

Most colleges and universities offer on-campus counseling services, but for those who are concerned about stigma, there are other options available.

Psychology Today offers customized searches for local therapists in any area of the United States simply by typing in a search for therapists by city and state. Description and photograph of the therapist is available along with the treatment specialties of the provider, which is a beneficial way to find out if the provider has experience in the areas one needs.

Online support groups are generally free and offer anonymity. Remedy Live offers online support for a variety of challenges including crisis help. The Support Group Project is dedicated to locating groups for specific needs, as is Mental Health America. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers support specific to depression and bipolar disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers online and telephone support groups for a variety of challenges including anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  There are countless online support options available, including life coaches, if one isn’t sure about the need for mental health counseling as much as guidance toward ones goals.

Peer support groups are often very useful tools in self-care. Many universities are offering peer support groups on campus for specific needs; it is surprising how beneficial it is to sit with others in similar situations. If a group isn’t available on campus, local mental health agencies or hospitals may offer support groups.

Many medical offices are moving toward integrated mental and medical healthcare, which means therapy services are frequently available in medical practices. The added benefit of this type of service is the ability to offer a unified treatment of mind and body, and possibly offer access to medications for depression and anxiety when needed.

National mental health crisis hotlines are available around the clock and are confidential and free, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). These hotlines offer immediate assistance for crisis situations and will stay on the phone until the crisis has passed or help has arrived.

There are many resources available to people who struggle with mental health needs, and often the right resource can be found fairly quickly; whether the best solution is individual counseling, group work or online therapy, the most important step is making the decision to try.


College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health. (2012).

Finding Help>Helping Others: College Students (2016)

Miranda, R, PhD., Soffer, A. PhD., Polanco-Roman, L, MA., Wheeler, A, BA., Moore, A., BA. (2015, June 19)  Journal of American College Health, Vol 63, No 5: Mental Health Treatment Barriers Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities Versus White Young Adults Six Months After Intake At A College Counseling Center.

Young Adults with Serious Mental Illness: Some States and Agencies are Taking Steps to Address Their Transitional Challenges. (2008, June 23).



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