The Problem

The American College Health Association found that in 2019, a reported 87% of college students felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities

-ACHA 2019 Survey

Over the past decade we have seen a rise in college student mental health concern, awareness, and need for support. A recent survey indicated that college Presidents are investing more resources, hearing more concerns on campus, and spending more time addressing mental health concerns as opposed to 3 years ago. In order to support our students and campuses, it’s important to start at the beginning.

Campus Statistics

Is mental health really something we need to be concerned about?

The following statistics were reported from the previous 12 month period in the 2019 National College Health Assessment Survey. Of the 67,972 respondents, this is how they responded to mental health questions:

  • 55.9% of college students reported feeling hopeless
  • 87.4% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do
  • 84.7% of college students felt exhausted (not from physical activity)
  • 65.6% of college students felt very lonely
  • 45.1% of college students felt so depressed it was hard to function
  • 65.7% of college students felt overwhelming anxiety
  • 43.3% of college students felt overwhelming anger
  • 13.3% of college students seriously considered suicide
  • 2.0% of college students attempted suicide
  • 8.6% of college students intentionally cut, burned, bruised, or otherwise injured themselves

This is very much a problem for us to concentrate on.

Key Terms

Words have power. Words matter.

We can always be better helpers if we know the words to use and those not to use. These definitions are taken directly from the Teen Mental Health Glossary. Please review the entire glossary here. We can do better once we know better.

Know the difference between Mental Health & Mental Illness.

Mental Health: is a state of emotional, behavioral, and social wellbeing, not just the absence of mental or behavioral disorder. It does not mean lack of distress. A person can have a mental disorder and mental health at the same time. For example: a person may have a Major Depressive Disorder that has been effectively treated and is still taking treatment for the disorder. Now they have mental health as well as a mental disorder.

Mental Illness: refers to a range of brain disorders that affect mood, behavior, and thought process. Mental illnesses are listed and defined in the DSM and the ICD. The terms mental illness and mental disorder are often used interchangeably.

A few common diagnoses college students live with.

Anxiety: is a type of body signal, or group of sensations that are generally unpleasant. A person with anxiety experiences a variety of physical sensations that are linked with thoughts that make them feel apprehensive or fearful. A person with anxiety will often also think that bad things may happen even when they are not likely to happen. For example, you may be thinking about your puppy falling and getting hurt when it is on the bed and this makes you feel anxious. Anxiety is normal and everyone experiences it. It is a signal that we need to adapt to life’s challenges by learning how to cope. When you have so much anxiety that it interferes with your normal routine or many parts of your life such as, school, work, recreation, friends or family — that is when it becomes a problem and maybe even a disorder. Typical sensations of anxiety include: worry, ruminations, “butterflies”, twitchiness, restlessness, muscle tension, headaches, dry mouth, feeling as if air is not coming into your lungs, etc.

Depression: is a term used to describe a state of low mood or a mental disorder. This can be confusing because people may often feel depressed but will not have the mental disorder called Depression. People with a Depression could be experiencing either Major Depressive Disorder or Dysthymic Disorder. The most common type of Depression as a mental disorder is a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). A person with MDD feels very low /sad/depressed or irritable and also experiences: lack of interest, less pleasure, hopelessness,
fatigue, sleep problems, loss of appetite, suicidal thoughts. MDD has a negative impact on a person’s life, home, family, school/work, friends, etc. Depression can also be part of a Bipolar Disorder (see above). MDD can be effectively treated with psychological therapies or medications.

Panic Attack: is a sudden experience of intense fear or psychological and physical discomfort that develops for no apparent reason and that includes physical symptoms such as dizziness, trembling, sweating, difficulty breathing or increased heart rate. Occasional panic attacks are normal. If they become persistent and severe, the person can develop a Panic Disorder.

Mood: (*not a diagnosis) is the ongoing inner emotional feeling experienced by a person.

Mood Disorders: are a group of mental disorders related to problems in how the brain is controlling emotions. A person with a mood disorder experiences an abnormal change in mood. These include: MDD, Bipolar Disorder, and Dysthymia.


“Although [suicide is] not a specific diagnosis, is the third leading cause** of death among young adults and is a significant problem among college students” (Pedrelli, P., Nyer, M., Yeung, A., Zulauf, C., & Wilens, T., 2015). **updated CDC statistics say that suicide is now the second leading cause of death.

Suicide: is death that occurs as a result of an action designed to end one’s life. (see also: suicide attempt, suicide ideation, suicide intent).

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