Tips for college students to maintain mental health

Special to The TribuneMarch 11, 2014 

AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

College is a time of learning and self-discovery for young adults. But it’s also a period of emotional instability with the potential for serious psychological consequences.

Consider these statistics. In 2011, the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment found that 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

More than 6 percent of college students reported seriously considering suicide, and about 1 percent reported attempting suicide in the previous year. More than 62 percent of students who withdrew from college did so for mental health reasons.

Unfortunately, an estimated 75 percent of college students with possible mental health issues didn’t seek the help they needed.

College students are at risk for developing a number of serious mental health concerns. Depression is the No. 1 reason students drop out of school. Studies show that 44 percent of American college students report having symptoms of depression.

Depressed students are more likely to binge drink, smoke marijuana and participate in risky sexual behaviors than peers who are not depressed.

Anxiety disorders are rampant on college campuses. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder and 75 percent of them have their first episode before the age of 22. In addition, a 2008 Associated Press and mtvU survey found that 80 percent of college students say they frequently experience daily stress.

The National Eating Disorders Association reports that eating disorders affect 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men in college. Fullblown eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age. Eating disorders have a high mortality rate. Early detection and treatment are vital.

Binge drinking is a common form of addiction found on American college campuses. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that, of the 61 percent of surveyed college students who drank alcohol, 40.5 percent binge drank and 16.3 percent were heavy drinkers.

The number of students who harm themselves is difficult to track. Few perpetrators report their behavior, and they usually harm themselves on areas of the body not visible to others. However, experts estimate that up to 15 percent of students engage in such activities, including cutting, burning or scratching themselves.

College students are particularly vulnerable to psychological stressors. They are just entering adulthood and lack well-developed coping strategies. Most are away from their families and traditional support systems. They are exposed to new activities and may begin experimenting with dangerous lifestyles. Many live in close proximity to other students and are directly impacted by their actions.

At the same time, students are learning who they are and what they believe. They are making life-altering decisions about their futures. Some feel excessive pressure to succeed.

Resources are available to assist students in need. Students can go to their college’s counseling or student health centers for one-on-one assistance.

Or they can call the SLO Hotline at 1-800-783-0607, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

TIPS FOR STUDENTS TO MAINTAIN MENTAL HEALTH

• Develop a support network. Form a group of close friends. Stay in contact with your family. Get to know your advisors and instructors. The more people you know at your college, the more connected you’ll feel.

• Be active. Exercise is important for your mental outlook and helps ward off depression. Take a break from your studies and get moving on a regular basis. Shoot for 2+ hours every week.

• Eat well. Choose a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods. Eat regularly to keep up your energy. Limit all-youcan-eat cafeterias and late-night raids to get pizza. Do, however, consume enough food to feel and perform your best.

• Get enough sleep. Sleep is vital to your mental well-being. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Wake up at roughly the same time every day. Keep your room dark and quiet at night.

• Avoid substance abuse. It’s easy to overdo when you’re a student. But excessive drug and alcohol use puts you in grave physical and mental danger. If you can’t get a grip on your actions, team up with someone who can.

• Seek professional help. You’re not alone. Lots of people can help. Talk to a trusted adult about your concerns. Or visit Student Services. Don’t rely on the advice of friends. Sometimes you need more.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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