The transition to college has always been a big step for teens. With greater independence, free time, daily new experiences, and the potential for friction with roommates and others, it is no wonder so many students experience trouble with their mental health.
As a current college student myself, I know this all too well. When I was entering my first year, I went in with a confident outlook and limited worries about my ability to be successful. Having always been a social kid with no issues making friends or adapting to new environments, I assumed this whole college thing would be a piece of cake. Needless to say, I was wrong and my first semester was anything but easy. I encountered my first major struggles with my mental health and the overall feeling of helplessness when it came to finding my footing socially and academically at an institution that was unlike anywhere else I had ever attended. Having never dealt with anything pertaining to mental health before, I attempted to “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” which in turn led to more negative feelings about myself and my environment.
While going through this myself, I noticed that many of my friends and peers were also struggling to find their footing in their new environment and expressing feelings of hopelessness. While this gave me little comfort then, looking back it is clear to me that we all could have used a resource and an outlet at that time.
Now, through my work with UpLift, I recognize that this issue was not unique to me, my peers, or my specific university. Whether students entering college have ever shown signs of mental health troubles in the past, the first year of college often produces more stress, anxiety, and the potential for depression. In fact, a 2017 study found that 1 in 3 college students meet the criteria for a clinically significant mental health problem, and 1 in 5 students have reported thoughts of suicide in the past year.
Since this is such a common experience, colleges and universities have created programs to support student mental health. Unfortunately, most colleges struggle to meet the high demand for counseling services, and on-campus counseling centers often have long waitlists.
For example, at the University of Washington here in Seattle, delays in mental health care are so commonplace that wait times of two to three weeks to meet with a psychologist has become expected. And this problem exists at small liberal arts colleges as well. For instance, at Carleton College, with just over 2,000 students, the waitlist is often 10 days. And, not only do wait times pose a hindrance to students who would otherwise seek help, but universities typically only offer a limited number of free counseling sessions. Even well-funded schools such as Washington University in St. Louis and Brown University offer less than 20 sessions to students per year.
As would be expected, the landscape of mental health treatment has gotten even rockier since the emergence of COVID-19. Since many students were attending therapy at out of state universities, and most therapists only practice in the state they reside, these students lost access to their mental health provider in what may be the most tumultuous and traumatic time they’ve ever experienced. This poses a particularly difficult challenge for students who may have financial or locational barriers to seeking out a new therapist.
With all of this in mind, as a college student, I encourage rising first-year college students to create a plan for their mental health. And, parents, you can help your students with this! In times like these especially, planning for the unexpected is a step that could help you and your student achieve success in their first year, whether it is taking place in person or remotely.
Fortunately there are organizations that can support you and your student through this transition, and help to ensure that college students are as happy and mentally healthy through their journey as possible. Here are a couple examples:
If I had access to UpLift and other products like it, I am confident that my first year would have gone considerably different than it did. Having the ability to get the help that I needed without having to go anywhere or approach anyone in-person for help would have eased my anxiety surrounding the issue of seeking help. Knowing what I know now, and participating in teletherapy once a week myself, I can wholeheartedly say that these services are as essential to entering college as a mattress pad or a mini-fridge, because at the end of the day mental health affects every aspect of your life and your college experience. Going in knowing that you have resources to lean on is something that I feel so grateful to have now and something I certainly wish I had at the beginning of my college experience.