Understanding Mental Health for College Students

A college student with mental health struggles alone.

What is Mental Health, and Why is it Important to Understand?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time for us to discuss and remember that taking care of our mental well-being is essential. Those living with mental health conditions deserve understanding, respect and compassion, and most importantly, tools for coping, healing, and fulfillment.

What is Mental Health?

According to the CDC, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are different. Mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions that affect thoughts and behaviors. Though anyone can have moments of poor mental health, not everyone has a mental illness. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of poor physical, mental, and social well-being.

Understanding Mental Health

For so long, discussing mental well-being was something taboo. A lot of progress has been made in recent years, but there is still a stigma. The negativity surrounding the topic has made it hard for people to seek help and guidance in a time when they need it most. Raising mental health awareness can help us all understand symptoms in ourselves or those important to us, find professional treatment, and, perhaps most importantly, bring an end to the stigma that leaves so many people silently suffering behind closed doors.

Here at GradGuard, we want to encourage everyone to speak up about their mental health to enable them to make meaningful changes for their mental well-being.

Common College Stressors

Many different things in life can make a person feel anxious, but knowing what they are can give us the ability to prepare how to handle them when we become overwhelmed. Here are some common reasons for stress among college students:

  • Time Stress – When stressed about time, it feels like there isn’t enough to complete everything on your to-do list. Students often experience this as they adapt to an intense workload and increased demands from college life, and it can also appear for students who attend a large college. During their first few months, navigating a new campus can have them racing around and fretting they’ll be late to classes or meetings.
  • Anticipatory Stress – This anxiety comes from concerns about the future. Anticipatory stress can be clear or ambiguous; thinking about an upcoming test or presentation or general nervousness about the future. It’s usually from a lack of confidence or a general fear of failing. Many college seniors may encounter anticipatory stress as they begin to look for jobs or plan their next move after graduation.
  • Situational Stress – While the previous forms of stress can be around for an extended period, situational stress is a sudden and overwhelming feeling of losing control. It happens quickly, and students feel they can’t change what’s happening, such as fighting with a friend, failing a test, getting a startling call from home, or getting seriously injured.

How to Take Care of Your Mind While in School

The last few years have shown us how detrimental isolation can be to our mental health. The rise in mental health concerns among college students has reached new heights.

Here are some recommendations for managing your mental health — on or off campus.

  • Keep active and exercise regularly – All sorts of essential things occur when we move our bodies. It enhances blood circulation, releases critical hormones, and we sweat out toxins lingering in our bodies. Exhaustion, stress, depression, and lack of concentration result from too much mental strain and not enough physical activity. Regular exercise could be the answer if you’re looking for a new way to boost energy levels and extend focus.
  • Practice good time management – With all the different demands of college life, learning to manage your time effectively becomes a priority. Adequate time management will help you be more productive, decrease stress, and allow for time to socialize or sleep.
  • Surround yourself with supportive and caring people –  It’s crucial to find comfort in those who are empathetic and understanding about what you are going through. It’s critical to make sure your close friends support your aspirations and motivate you, not discourage you. You’ll need their positive energy if life doesn’t go quite as planned and your mental health is suffering. It’s normal for periods of anxiety and stress to become overwhelming with juggling the responsibilities of adult life, and it may be hard to talk to some of my friends who don’t understand what you are feeling.
  • Do things that bring you joy – Having time to ourselves is critical for our brains to recuperate. Although it may seem like you don’t have enough time, or a waste to spend what little free time you have, reading a book or painting a picture, you need to make time to do the things you love. It allows our brains to process information and for us to decompress from the stresses we face in our day-to-day
  • Use mental health services – Your university’s student health center should have counseling available. If the matter is small and will come to an end quickly, talking it through with your professor or a friend may be enough. However, it can be beneficial to talk your stresses through with an unbiased medical professional. Going to therapy will give you a safe space to work through your issues and provide life-long coping skills.

Final Thoughts

When attending college, you must stay vigilant and protect yourself with so much at stake. GradGuard’s mission is to help universities and colleges across the country educate and protect their students and their families. For many students, the burden of college life can prove to be too much if their mental health is suffering, forcing them to leave college early. The risk of losing thousands of dollars is too significant to leave to chance, but it’s often not discussed.

College is a fun time to meet new people, create memorable experiences, and learn.  The opportunity to protect yourself and your investment in your education should be available to every student. Knowing some of the most significant financial risks will prepare you for the unexpected.