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University Students and Mental Health

Monday, November 14th, 2022

by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD



Young people face a difficult moment in history while at an impressionable age.  Something that might not have much impact in the life of a 45-year-old could emotionally level a 19-year-old.

If your child is in university or headed to university soon, you might want to pay special attention to this article.  The most striking statistic comes from a Healthy Minds Study which collects data from 373 university campuses nationwide.  Based on student responses, during the 2020-2021 school year more than 60% of university students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem.

Some of the increase in mental health problems among university students can clearly be attributed to COVID and its ongoing impact.  However, across the country we were already seeing a significant increase in the number of students seeking and needing mental health care and support.  

A study completed by Penn State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health in 2015 showed that between 2009 and 2015 the number of students seeking mental health services increased by about 40%.  COVID has simply added to an already high demand for services, along with war, racial issues, political discord, the climate change crisis…

The developmental stage of 18-22-year-olds is wrapped up in establishing identity.  Values are being explored and chosen.  Careers are being explored and chosen.  Sometimes mates are being explored and chosen.  Lots and lots of transition is accompanied by plenty of existential angst.  In short, we live in a time where being a university student is particularly challenging.

The primary causes of mental health issues in college students are not necessarily surprising: Stress over grades, Financial anxiety, Overworked, Sedentary lifestyles, Biological and genetic causes, and Traumatic events including sexual assault and racism.  

There are a couple of things you can do to support your student’s mental health.  First, stay connected.  Don’t be a helicopter parent who hovers overhead all the time.  Your student is an adult and needs to find his or her own way.  But stay connected and watch and listen for signs of increased difficulty, anxiety, depression, and so on.

Second, if you see your student struggling emotionally, encourage them to seek out mental health services.  Colleges and universities standardly offer mental health services for their students.  Thankfully we are seeing a significant increase in acceptance of psychological problems and resulting psychological treatment, particularly at the age level of university students.  If psychotherapy can help your student deal with their mental health challenges while in college, then they will be set up for better mental health throughout their life.

If you need to talk to someone, we have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.