Between 2009 and 2017, the number of college students needing mental health services increased by 30 percent while student enrollment increased by just 6 percent. This vast increase in the number of students needing mental health counseling has so overwhelmed university health services that students face long wait times just to talk to a therapist. Not surprisingly, many students drop out of universities because of mental health struggles.
Students clearly need help. The pressures of college life are harming their health. Bright students with great potential may feel they have no choice but to quit. No degree, job, or career path is worth going through stress and anxiety that causes students to become depressed, suffer crippling anxiety, and engage in harmful behaviors like self-harm. But students need degrees in order to pursue the opportunities that will lead to a fulfilling life later.
Stress-related illness underpins a large part of the problem. This can be seen from statistics that show student visits to mental health centers increases as the term goes on, often doubling a midterms approach, as shown in Time Magazine.
Many students find the challenges of university life are too much. Between heavy course loads, social and peer pressures, extracurricular activities, fear of disappointing parents, and financial struggles and student debt, college students carry a heavy burden of worry and sometimes difficult, if not impossible, expectations. These expectations may be self-imposed or external, but either way, they can lead to physical and mental breakdown when students run themselves ragged day in and day out to meet them. College, after all, is supposed to be a time of self-discovery. It’s supposed to be fun and provide students with new found freedom.
Anxiety and high expectations have always been part of the university world. The current epidemic of negative effects may stem from an increasingly competitive society and the expectations that every student needs a high degree that lands them a prestigious job. Pressure like that is tough for anyone to take. Throwing an 18-year-old into such an environment seems to ask for trouble.
Universities across the country are taking note. As noted in Time Magazine, institutions like the University of Pennsylvania are increasing funding for mental health services. Off-campus, private mental health providers are creating programs aimed at helping students cope with the pressures of college life.
The epidemic of stress-related anxiety and depression clearly indicates these measures are needed. Parents, too, should be aware of how stress and pressure are affecting their children. Having goals and ambitions is important but should never come at the expense of health.