College students face unique stressors that create or exacerbate different mental health challenges. Just some of these stressors include the transition from high school to college, applying for scholarships and jobs, being active on campus, having to socialize with new and different groups of people, large homework loads, project deadlines, and so much more. The following page includes mental health challenges that can result from these stressors, ways to cope with them, and resources offered by each campus to help overcome mental health challenges.
Common Mental Health Challenges Students Face
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is characterized by excessive and unrealistic worrying about everyday life events with no obvious reason. The worry caused by triggering events is generally out of proportion compared to the reaction of the average person and can interfere with daily functioning. Specific symptoms of GAD include excessive worry and tensions, unrealistic view of problems, feeling of being on “edge”, muscle tension, headaches, difficulty concentrating, nausea, gastrointestinal issues, sleep issues, trembling, and being easily started.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Characterized by stress/anxiety of social interaction (i.e., talking to strangers, going to events with a lot of people, eating in front of others, using public restrooms, public speaking, making eye contact) is too much to handle and you become extremely uncomfortable. Those who have this may only experience it in certain situations and not others (i.e., giving a speech is easy for you but going to a party is extremely difficult). Symptoms include many of those for GAD but also high anxiety leading up to an event and spending a lot of time and mental energy worrying about how you acted afterwards.
Anxiety disorders also include panic disorders and phobias. The aforementioned information came from WebMD and more information can be found on all these challenges at www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic.
Depression: Depression comes in many forms and can coexist with anxiety. The DSM-5 (manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders) considers someone to be depressed if they demonstrate five or more of the following symptoms. A depressed mood, especially during the morning, tiredness or lack of energy, feeling worthless or guilty, trouble with sleep, and no interest or pleasure in many activities occurring nearly every day. Also, having a hard time focusing, remembering details, making decisions, frequent thoughts about death or suicide, feeling restless or slowed down, and weight changes. More information on depression, including more symptoms and treatment options, can be found at www.webmd.com/depression.
Body Image: “Body image involves our perception, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations of and about our bodies. It’s not static – but ever changing; sensitive to changes in mood, environment, and physical experience. It is not based on fact. It is psychological in nature, and much more influenced by self-esteem than by actual physical attractiveness as judged by others. It is not inborn, but learned.”–from Improving Body Image, by Judy Lightstone. This quote demonstrates the complexity of body image and how it can vary from person to person. In college, issues with body image can be heightened or created due to aforementioned stressors. Body image issues are highly correlated with the development of eating disorders. Some tips on improving body image can be found at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/ten-steps.
Eating Disorders: Academic pressures and social expectations in college environments can create situations where students skip meals, eat compulsively, or exercise in an unhealthy manner. In many situations, it may be hard to tell when behavior related to eating and exercising is normal or abnormal. If you think you might have an eating disorder but are not sure, this link will help you better evaluate your situation:
If you’re concerned about a friend, here are some resources on how to help them:
Substance Abuse and Addiction: According to WebMD, “Substance abuse is when you take drugs that are not legal. It’s also when you use alcohol, prescription medicine, and other legal substances too much or in the wrong way. Substance abuse differs from addiction. Many people with substance abuse problems are able to quit or can change their unhealthy behavior. Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease. It means you can’t stop using even when your condition causes you harm.” One commonly abused substance on college campuses is alcohol. To see if your consumption levels are in problematic ranges, take this free, anonymous online screening at http://www.alcoholscreening.org/Home.aspx. For more information on substance abuse and addition, visit https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/default.htm.
Advice for Coping with Mental Health Challenges
Here are a couple of things you can do to help mitigate mental health challenges
- Aerobic exercise a at least three times a week (i.e., jogging).
- Get a healthy amount of sleep (Google “SLIDESHOW 20 Tips for Better Sleep – WebMD” for some tips!).
- Healthier eating (diet has an impact on mental and emotional health).
- Consider drug and alcohol use including caffeine.
- Talk to a doctor and ask them to go over all your options, including medications.
- For more tips to improve your mental health, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/31-tips-boost-your-mental-health.
To get help with any of the mental health challenges mentioned above, please review your campuses’ counseling resources, all of which are listed below.
Bismarck State College
Dakota College at Bottineau
Dickinson State University
Lake Region State College
Mayville State University
Minot State University
North Dakota State College of Science
North Dakota State University
University of North Dakota
Valley City State University
Williston State College