The Urgent Need for Mental Health Prevention at College

We are facing a mental health crisis on college campuses of epidemic proportion.  Students nationwide are developing debilitating mood disorders and dangerous suicidal behaviors that pose serious risk to their success, health and safety. While most colleges and universities are hard at work boosting their mental health services and support, these essential measures are far too little and too late for the staggering numbers of young adults who arrive on the edge of crisis. 

Rates of mood disorders and suicidal behavior in college students have skyrocketed over the past decade. Since 2008, the number of young adults between ages 18-25 reporting that they experienced serious psychological problems increased by 71%. (National Survey on Drug Use and Health).  In 2018, 8.9 million young adults reported living with symptoms of mental illness.  More than one third of them report never seeking treatment.  

In February 2021, the CDC reported that 75% of young adults report struggling with anxiety and depression. An alarming 25% of them experience serious suicidal ideation.  Loss, loneliness and isolation related to the COVID pandemic exacerbates the mental health problems students report. However, these stressors do not account for the alarming upsurge of psychological and behavioral problems on campus and returning to a more normal college life will not sufficiently address them.

Some college students contend with serious mental illness. However, most college students who report psychological distress and related behavior problems are not afflicted with an underlying psychiatric illness.  For this majority, understanding the factors at play and how to better address them is the key to mental health prevention and reducing the surge of mental health problems we see.

Social media, rising mental health awareness, financial stressors, overparenting and other adult involved trends in childrearing have all been identified as influential n the spiking numbers of mental health problems in college students. None of these circumstantial factors are based upon underlying disease or biological illness.  However, they all can create real disorders and significantly impacting brain development and a wide range of behaviors integral to mental health and well-being.  

From day one, college presents social and academic changes and challenges that require independent initiative, motivation, discipline, organization, planning, and follow through Many college students arrive on campus unprepared to take care of themselves and be successful.  They have not yet been exposed to the freedoms, independence and autonomy they abruptly face and are expected to be capable of managing.  Nor have they developed the range of experienced mastery, resilience and life skills that only come from taking charge of their lives and being responsible for the vast array of problem solving involved.  

When intelligent and motivated young adults land on campus unprepared to manage the new and varied demands at school, a couple of things likely follow. Worries about existing and potential problems develop and soon multiply.  These fears and negative thought patterns reduce confidence and increase the likelihood of developing anxiety and avoidant behaviors.  Unsolved problems and unmanageable stress create compounding problems that lead to learned helplessness, shattered confidence, plunging motivation and a sharp rise in the risk of developing depression.

Reducing mental health problems in college students requires preventive measures that prepare students with the self-awareness and skills they need to manage their mood, behavior and relationships independently before their limitations lead to crisis.  Our LaunchWell™ online college readiness program is designed to provide students with this critical toolbox.  Providing students with the foundation of awareness, skills and strategic planning they need to reduce the risk for mental health problems and suicidal behavior, and proactively address their mental health and well-being BEFORE a crisis derails it.  

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