College Students Face Soaring Psychological Stress

Certainly the college experience can be a lot of fun: parties, new friends, travel abroad, extracurriculars, and even some exciting classes. But to anyone who has experienced college and then looked back from the other side, it’s no surprise that this is a highly stressful time. Adjusting to new living environments, transitioning from dependence to independence, rigorous academic expectations, demanding responsibilities to clubs and organizations, and generally exploring the various life choices that come with newfound freedom. These are all common undergraduate experiences. They’re also paired, too often, with poor nutrition and consistently insufficient sleep.

The call to “do everything” and “make the most” of the experience is not bad in theory; but is it any wonder that 80% of college students are mentally stressed? Several reports over the last year have indicated that more students than ever are seeking on-campus counseling and reporting mental health concerns. Perhaps that rise indicates a change in the college experience, or perhaps simply a change in awareness of problems that have existed for quite some time. Either way, a recent study looked farther in depth at the mental challenges college students face, and their findings are a bit overwhelming. Two in three college students exhibited mild to moderate symptoms that point to mental health concerns, and over 80% reported elevated distress levels. Only one in three distressed students got help, and only 16% of the students surveyed had no mental health problems.

So what can be done about this? Certainly, awareness of mental health issues and the detrimental affects of stress can’t hurt. It’s also important to ensure students know what counseling and therapy resources are available to them, and to encourage and de-stigmatize taking advantage of those resources. But on a deeper level, might we consider why college is so stressful and overwhelming in the first place? College students may have less balanced sleeping and eating habits than adults do, but the stress and responsibilities expected of them aren’t unique to college campuses. In some ways, college is a distilled version of the stressful pace of life throughout the rest of our society.  That stress doesn’t go away upon graduation.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Suzzane Glonah

    Suzzane Glonah

    November 24th, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Its been over ten years but I remember my college life like it was yesterday…there was so much to do…there were so many fun things too but at the end of the day there is always a lot left to do when you’re thinking of calling it a day…

  • F.Kirsten


    November 24th, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    I have a son in college presently and he keeps telling about how cramped his schedule is.All the academics and the extra-curriculars are draining he says.Now combine this with all the fun things they would like to do as youngsters and it can get choking for them.

    We need to have support systems in every institution to actually help them through all this and a sense of goodness has to be spread so that students do not hesitate to actually take this help.

  • AD


    November 25th, 2010 at 3:33 AM

    There is no doubt that college students suffer from stress and sometimes even depression because some of them stay away from home.All this can be a contributing factor to something completely negative like suicide for instance.There are a lot of college students that commit suicide.This makes the presence of help on the campus all the more important.

  • Amy


    November 25th, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    A lot is being asked of younger people today but I think that is because the rest of us have a lot of faith in their talents and the good that we know that can ultimately do in this world. I am sure that they feel like this is a lot to live up to but then if they looked at it another way and saw it as a sign of the faith that we have in them then maybe some of those psychological stresses would be lifted. They would maybe see and get then confidence that we hope that they feel and that they will need to create a better world for tomorrow. I think that if I had thought that others were thinking this of me when I was in school perhaps I would have been inspired to do more. I hope that it ends up working this way for this generation.



    November 25th, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Some parents put sooooo much pressure on their kids regarding academics that that in itself is enough to give the poor child a panic attack!We as parents need to understand that too much pressure can be a bad thing and that our over-zealousness can become a problem for them!

  • GJ


    November 26th, 2010 at 3:14 AM

    You have rightly pointed out about many students not making use of facilities even when the facilities are there for them. This stigma should go and a free approach should be present.

  • Shannon


    November 26th, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    Many schools now have great counseling services available on their campuses.

    The trick is finding a way to get the students to use them to their full advantage.

    There is still such a stigma attached to asking for and receiving help that these offices are going to have to be more creative about getting students attention and letting them know the wide variety of services that they have available that could help them.

  • Fred S

    Fred S

    November 27th, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    Why the atress? Nine times out of ten mom and dad are still footing the bill and all they have to do is go to class on a regualr basis and make good grades. Now tell me what is so hard about that? Ask the moms and dads paying the tab where the stress is and I think that they are in a way better situation to tell you about dealing with stress then a college student is!

  • Jan


    November 28th, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    Faculty and instructors need to be made more aware of the pressures that students are facing today and should be given lessons on how to lighten some of their load. they do not have to make the classes or the material any easier but maybe they could at least become a little more mindful of the pressures facing college students today. It is a different world than what it was when many of them began their teaching careers and they should think about the fact that many students now have to work and pay their way through school which only adds to the stresses that so many are having to deal with outside of the classroom. I know that this is something that everyone has to learn how to juggle but it may make it just a little easier for syudents to deal with if they know that their professors and instructors are going to be sympathetic to their cause.

  • runninfast


    November 29th, 2010 at 5:48 AM

    I kind of think that kids have so many opportunities these days that they have nothing to be stressed and worried about. Where does all of this come from? I do wish that they would take these years to enjoy themselves instead of wasting so much time worried about so many things that they may or may not be able to control. College years should be about good times, learning and experiencing new things. Why let that be ruined with four years of worrying and staying anxious all of the time?

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