College is supposed to be a challenging and exciting time for young adults. For many, it’s an empowering opportunity to live away from home and work toward a fulfilling career. However, many students in recent years have been dealing with mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression, which are having a major impact on their success and well-being.

As the demand for mental health services on campus grows, it prompts a few important questions. Are colleges and universities rising to the occasion and meeting these students’ mental health needs? And what is driving the increase in students seeking help with their mental health?

Here’s what we know about the state of students’ mental health on campus — and what is being done to help.

College Students’ Mental Health is “In Crisis”

In the past, the traditional counseling model worked well for institutions of higher education. The demand was low enough that the counseling staff at colleges and universities could meet students’ needs, for the most part. But that’s changing as more and more students seek mental health services on campus.

By the 2020-2021 school year, about 6 in 10 college students qualified as having at least one mental health problem. Additionally, about three-quarters of American college students had “moderate or severe psychological distress.” This crisis has resulted in campuses struggling to meet student demand for mental health services and leaving many students unsupported.

Increased Academic Pressure

Many students today are cracking under the pressure of heavy course loads and other responsibilities. A similar phenomenon is happening in other systems, such as healthcare, where nurse burnout and mental health needs are on the rise due to long hours, high expectations, and increasing demands.

In addition to learning how to live more independently and make new friends, students are juggling their coursework and trying to do well in their classes. While this has always been a challenge for college students, academic pressure has been steadily rising.

In the past, simply attending and graduating from college was enough to set you apart in the job market. Today, it’s almost the bare minimum to have a bachelor’s degree. Many students have to take on tens of thousands of dollars in loans, increasing the pressure to do well still further.

Social, Economic, and Environmental Worries

Aside from academic pressures, students have other concerns on their minds. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to develop mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and other types of psychological distress. Many students felt isolated as they attended classes virtually.

With that said, mental health was a growing concern on college campuses even before the pandemic. Many students are grappling with anxiety and depression over the state of the world, including social injustices, climate change, and wondering how they are going to make ends meet after they graduate, especially those who had to take out hefty student loans.

Students are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. While college should be a time for exploration and learning, many students are concerned about how their future will unfold after they graduate, affecting their mental health and well-being. 

Reduced Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

On a more positive note, schools are also seeing more demand for mental health services partly because the stigma surrounding mental illness is starting to fall away. Many young people do not hesitate to seek help from a professional when they experience symptoms of mental illness.

This is a healthy trend, and it’s important that every student who needs mental health services has access to them. Now that young people are more willing to seek counseling, it’s important for schools to understand what their students need and how to meet those needs.

Creative Solutions to Meet Demand

Schools have been somewhat slow to respond to the student mental health crisis. In the past, many schools have viewed counseling as something few students should need and have not increased their budgets or changed their approach. That is proving to be a major problem at many institutions of higher education.

With that said, some schools are taking more creative approaches to meet demand. In many cases, it isn’t possible to hire enough counselors to meet the demand through traditional means. Schools are hosting workshops, prioritizing quick consultations, and being more proactive to help students manage their mental health and increase their knowledge of psychology.

How Can Schools Do Better?

Although some schools are starting to realize the importance of mental health care on campus, many still need to catch up. In addition to increased staffing and budgets, schools need to think of new ways to deliver care. Asking students what kind of support they need would be another way to generate ideas for delivering mental healthcare.

Getting out of this crisis isn’t likely to be easy. There are many factors affecting students’ demand for mental health services. But one thing is absolutely clear: students need and deserve to have their mental health needs met as they prepare for the future.