The Value of Support for College Student Mental Health

Four college students study outside in grassIn recent years, mental health conditions among college students have significantly increased. According to surveys by the American College Health Association (ACHA), 7.3% of undergraduates in 2011 reported having received a professional diagnosis and/or treatment for both depression and anxiety. In 2015, this number increased to 9.8%.

In a related finding, the 2013 National Survey of College Counseling Centers stated 95% of site directors had seen significant increases in the number of students seeking help for severe mental health concerns. Seventy-three percent of directors also reported an increase in mental health crises requiring an immediate response.

The increase of psychological conditions in post-secondary institutions has been attributed to several factors. Transitioning to a new lifestyle, location, or culture can cause considerable stress that may provoke underlying conditions.

The effect of social media has also come under scrutiny, as it necessitates the maintenance of a second social identity and has been theorized to induce a type of compulsive anxiety called the fear of missing out (FOMO). Those who are experiencing difficulty with their mental health may feel worse after looking at someone else’s social media profile. A 2015 study from University of Missouri researchers found Facebook use can increase depression symptoms if users have any feelings of jealousy or envy from browsing others’ profiles.

College students today face a complex matrix of factors that have the potential to threaten their mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a report in 2012 summarizing the survey responses of 765 current and recent college students with a mental health condition. Among respondents no longer in school, 64% said their absence was due to psychological circumstances. Half of this group did not access college support systems prior to leaving. Of those who did seek help, 45% felt they did not receive adequate accommodation. These findings suggest there is room for improvement in the management of student mental health within post-secondary institutions.

The Importance of Healthy Support Networks

Professional evaluation and treatment is a key part of managing psychological issues, but an equally significant source of support is often a person’s network of friends and family. A 2016 study of adolescents experiencing early life stress identified two pathways through which strong social supports may impede the development of depressive symptoms. In the first, family support near age 14 was linked with lower rates of symptoms at age 17 as a mediator of negative family experiences. The second pathway showed peer bullying had an unfavorable effect on later symptom development, but less so when interceded by a gain of adolescent friendships.

The value of peer-based social support extends throughout young adulthood, according to a 2015 investigation published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Researchers recruited a sample of 636 subjects, ages 18-25, to investigate if the relationship between stress and loneliness is altered by the source of social support (family, friends, or romantic partners). They found the association became weaker only if the social support came from friends, which is consistent with other findings.

In the case of college students, the system of support can extend to the institution itself with beneficial results. While many schools have counseling services, there are several barriers that can prevent them from being effective as a sole strategy for student mental health management.

Denial of symptoms or a condition is not uncommon, possibly due to stigma, which remains a significant source of apprehension for many people when it comes to seeking help for psychological concerns. Students in the typical college environment can remain in virtual solitary confinement inside their rooms, evading the detection of symptoms by others and likely worsening their outcomes.

How to Strengthen Support Networks

A 2014 article in the American Psychological Association (APA) publication Monitor on Psychology provides suggestions to enhance the efficiency of school networks in assisting students with mental health concerns. It is noted that more people are attending post-secondary institutions than ever before, and traditional mental health services must now expand to accommodate this growth.

The increase of psychological conditions in post-secondary institutions has been attributed to several factors. Transitioning to a new lifestyle, location, or culture can cause considerable stress that may provoke underlying conditions.The costs associated with such developments may be unattractive to administrators, so student mental health management may need to be presented as an investment strategy to strengthen future proposals. Innovations in support delivery systems, such as the addition of screening programs, brief but regular consultations, and internet-based services (via a smartphone app, for example) present key opportunities for improvement, as do enhancements in the generation of awareness through education.

Friends and family members of college students facing mental health issues can help by doing their part to strengthen the personal support network. The rise of computer-based communication and online social networks has greatly altered the landscape of personal interactions, bringing new challenges and threats to mental health.

Social networks can amount to public forums, leaving people vulnerable to perceived humiliation as a result of comments that might be harmless in offline environments. It is also often harder to interpret intentions in text-based contact due to the elimination of body language and vocal features, which may place people who are susceptible to negative interpretations at a disadvantage. Friends and family members of college students with mental health concerns should be aware of the impact online interactions can have, especially because it is likely to be a main mode of communication.

Resources for College Student Mental Health

Stigma does exist, and though it can be difficult to deal with, mental health concerns can become worse if they are not evaluated and treated by a qualified mental health professional. Friends and family members tend to have a connection that can greatly influence mental health, and that type of support is likely to make psychological concerns easier to deal with.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health concern while attending a college or university, there is help available. In addition to mental health professionals at your college or university, national resources for mental health include:

References:

  1. American College Health Association (2012). National college health assessment II. Retrieved from http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ACHA-NCHA-II_UNDERGRAD_ReferenceGroup_ExecutiveSummary_Fall2011.pdf
  2. Brown, J. (2015). A growing challenge. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/today/2015/mental-health-college-students/
  3. DeAndrea, D. C., Ellison, N. B., LaRose, R., Steinfield, C., & Fiore, A. (2012). Serious social media: On the use of social media for improving students’ adjustment to college. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 15-23.
  4. Gallagher, R. P. (2013). National survey of college counseling centers. The International association of Counseling Services, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.collegecounseling.org/wp-content/uploads/Survey-2013-4-yr-Directors-1.pdf
  5. Hurst, N. (2015, February 3). If Facebook Use Causes Envy, Depression Could Follow. Retrieved from http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2015/0203-if-facebook-use-causes-envy-depression-could-follow/
  6. Lee, C. Y. S., & Goldstein, S. E. (2015). Loneliness, stress, and social support in young adulthood: does the source of support matter? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1-13.
  7. Mattanah, J. F., Ayers, J. F., Brand, B. L., Brooks, L. J., Quimby, J. L., & McNary, S. W. (2010). A social support intervention to ease the college transition: Exploring main effects and moderators. Journal of College Student Development, 51(1), 93-108.
  8. National Alliance on Mental Illness (2012). College students speak: A survey report on mental health. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/getattachment/About-NAMI/Publications-Reports/Survey-Reports/College-Students-Speak_A-Survey-Report-on-Mental-Health-NAMI-2012.pdf
  9. Novotney, A. (2014). Students under pressure: College and university counseling centers are examining how best to serve the growing number of students seeking their services. APA Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/09/cover-pressure.aspx
  10. van Harmelen, A. L., Gibson, J. L., St Clair, M. C., Owens, M., Brodbeck, J., Dunn, V., … & Goodyer, I. M. (2016). Friendships and family support reduce subsequent depressive symptoms in at-risk adolescents. PloS One, 11(5), e0153715. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0153715

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  • Jonah

    Jonah

    June 7th, 2016 at 9:35 AM

    no we can always find a way to build a new stadium and support the athletic departments, but mental health care? I mean, we do have our priorities you know (please insert tons of sarcasm)

  • jillian

    jillian

    June 7th, 2016 at 5:57 PM

    It is the moment when kids leave home and feel the most alone that they certainly need more access to mental health care and facilities.
    If we do not choose to give them this access on the college campus then we are failing them in so many ways.
    How many lives have to be lost because the funds are just not what they need to be?

  • Steffy

    Steffy

    June 8th, 2016 at 9:38 AM

    These are the years that we all build our foundation for a healthy future. It is great to know that even during stressful times there are people who are concerned about your help and who want to make sure that you come through this experience healthy and complete. It amazes me that there are still those who fail to see the importance of having strong mental health care for everyone. Is there really anything that can convince them that this is something important that many people struggle with?

  • regina

    regina

    June 8th, 2016 at 3:01 PM

    those national numbers are a great help- thanks for sharing these

  • Truman

    Truman

    June 9th, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    Some of my very best friends that I still have today are the friends that I met while in college. They formed relationships with me that I don’t think could b broken and I think that a big part of that is because we all struggled through those years together, taking care of each other and them learning from each other. Those can be very impressionable times so when you find your people they are good to keep around you. They have seen you through the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. We all can use good friends like that.

  • Ruthie

    Ruthie

    June 10th, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    Definitely want my children to go to school somewhere that I know is going to make their health, both physical safety as well as their mental health, a top priority!

  • laura s

    laura s

    June 13th, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    This seems to be one of those services that you never really think all that much about until you or a family member needs it and then you certainly want it to be available.
    Let’s think about it like this. Even if you don’t need this kind of help or your son or daughter doesn’t need it, there is probably someone very close to you in your life who does.
    Don’t you want them to have that same access that you would want if it was hitting close to your own home?

  • Eddie

    Eddie

    June 14th, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    Well you sure have to pay enough for it, so it should be included as a service available to them 24/7!

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