Anxiety,  Depression,  Health and Wellness

6 Common Mental Illnesses that College Students Suffer From

Group of People Sitting on White Mat on Grass Field

I’ve said that this blog was dedicated to people my age and yet– strangely enough– I forgot to write an article that focuses on us in specific. That ends today, as I’ll be discussing common mental illness that plague college students.

Why does it seem like there are so many more people, millennials particularly, struggling with mental illness?

Well, I don’t know if there are more people necessarily who are struggling with mental illness and it seems like there is no single consensus on the question. I think there are a few reasons. One, mental health isn’t such a taboo subject anymore; more people are willing to be open about their struggles with a mental illness. Two, the campaign is being championed by more people with the understanding that this is as important an issue as, for instance, Russian ads; the strength of a nation is dependent on its people. If we can’t handle the issues that will keep us from high amounts of chronic stress that propels bad habits, then we’re in trouble. Three, the dissemination of those two pieces of information. And four, not getting to the bottom of the ever-worsening problems that are all around us.

We all know that there are hundreds of diagnoses that exist in the DSM, but among those which are the most common among millennials?

Find out more after the jump. 🙂

(Author’s Note: Article is out a little later today because I got distracted earlier in the week by my Switch; on top of more frustrating things like my one-year-old who won’t listen and my car having trouble. My apologies. )

There are so many reasons that millennials are reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. There is– no matter how you feel about him– the most controversial president in the White House right now. The ongoing and growing number of protests for equality among people from different walks of life and the dismissal of evil practices. The rising expectations for people in this generation without the proper supports to propel them into higher positions. Governments protecting corporate lobbyists’ interests which makes it harder for the people to get the change that they need in their communities. Low job availability for people in their degree’s job sector, barring those degrees that wouldn’t make much of a living in the first place. Low wages that do nothing to alleviate the problems that the current standard of living imposes. Mass shootings and gun control laws. Threats and whispers of wars in our future. Gender identity and acceptance. Poor healthcare system. Worries about global warming. Social media and the internet.  Etc. Etc.

Et. Ce. Te. Ra.

All of this ON TOP of trying to maintain yourself and your relationships with others.

(I apologize that this is very Americentric, but I’m not well-versed in affairs outside of America. Your problems matter, too, wherever you are, and absolutely can contribute to why you may feel really stressed out.)


Man in White Shirt Using Macbook Pro
“Ahaha… You expect me to deal with all of the bullshit in the media, online, and in real life. THEN, you want me to be an upstanding citizen with no concern about my mental health… Yeah… Sure… Completely do-able. ?”


Millennials are raised to be competitive and ambitious. While simultaneously looked at as though we’re coddled, self-important, petulant children with nothing more to do than whine about why we don’t get things our way. Our problems are largely ignored and when they do get brought up by some big shot on TV, it’s because they want to pander to the masses with empty promises and canned As-Seen-On-TV-like responses. I’m sure that generations before us felt the same way under their circumstances, but then… where is the compassion that accompanies understanding and the effort to make life easier for future generations?

We need to have protections in place so that when people inevitably get stressed from all of the problems that they face, they can get the help they need in order to continue being fully functioning and contributing members of society. It is impossibly stupid that we can have all of these stressors around us and what we receive en masse is abject dismissal. Fortunately, there are those who understand and try to help, but there needs to be way more emphasis put on something as crucially important as mental health.

Let’s get a few things straight before we get into the meat of things, though.



“75% of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 24, huh? Well, hot damn, I got one a hell of a head start.”


An increasing number of millennials are attending college with a mental illness. Look around. One in five college students are afflicted by mental illness, with 75% of those manifesting as a lifelong condition by the very young age of 24; roughly a year before the brain has fully developed. That’s about 5 million people, according to NAMI.

I bring this up because you only have ~25ish years (or a few more years) to develop your prefrontal cortex to carry with you for the rest of your life. It’s in charge of important things like attention, complex planning, decision making, impulse control, logical thinking, organized thinking, personality development, risk management, and short-term memory. And high amounts of stress and detrimental factors can affect how your brain develops. This can be negated completely or in part based on your family genetics, but still, we want to avoid most problematic stimuli if possible. So, on the topic of brain development on its own, 24 is way too young an age to be affected by mental illness.

Here are a few more tidbits of information for you from USA Today:

1 in every 12 college students make a suicide plan.
60.5% of students reported feeling lonely in the past year (an indicator of depression).
49.5% of students reported feeling hopeless in the past year.
More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from all other medical illnesses combined.

Here are some more from the APA website:

90% of colleges are concerned about the growing number of students with mental illness
25.% of students were taking psychotropic medications; 19% of directors believe the availability of psychiatric help is inadequate
21% of students show up to counseling with severe mental illness.
40% of students present with mild mental illness.

So, yeah… This is looking a bit like an issue. ?

Top 6 Mental Illnesses Common Among College Students


Person With Hospital Tag Labeled As Madeline Ellis 90876
“… What’s this band for??? Look, man, I’m not into any of that stuff, so if you could take this off, that’d be great, thanks…”

Keep in mind that these are not ranked in order of importance or prevalence. It’s just when I came across the information.


As noted before, 1 out of 5 students in college will be affected by anxiety and depression.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in 2014 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-34. The prevailing argument for this seems to be that because we are so entrenched in a culture of the internet and social media, that it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that people lead perfect lives. In return, we contemplate the difference in our lives and start to make ourselves miserable with dreams of what we never once knew we wanted and being less grateful for what we actually have.

Daisy Buchanan of the Guardian seems to think that while we’ve conflated our inherent self-value with the point-and-reward system on social media, the problem may have actually started in school. When the Ofsted initiative was introduced in 1992, it strived to ascertain that all schools were teaching to the same and higher standard; and sometime later pushed for students to go to college. While it was a great idea, she argues that it left a bit of baggage with us when expectations started to rise. It created people who were overly concerned with perfectionism, causing “multidimensional perfectionism“. “It wasn’t enough to aim for an A,” she said, “we had to aim for the A-star”.

Depression can also lead to lower grades, which can feed into the cycle. According to this study published in The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, among the 121 students who were diagnosed with depression, 58 students claimed that their low school performance was one of the causes for their depression.


We’ve all seen the meme or someone that we know say something along the lines of, “if you take 3 minutes to respond to me, then I’ll take 3 minutes to respond to you; even better, I’ll double it”. It seems that we’ve all become a little bit less patient as time progressed. In this article from Boston UUniversity(BU) Today, author Joel Brown quotes Corrie Landa, the director of Behavioral Medicine in BU’s Student Health Services on the topic of anxiety among college students. “We have all become less able to tolerate ambiguity and the unknown due to the incredible technological advances we have seen,” says Carrie Landa, “Immediacy is sometimes the antidote to anxiety: having to wait for anything—a text, an exam grade, ‘How am I going to do?’—all create anticipatory anxiety. Unfortunately, there are many things in life that aren’t quickly resolved and waiting is necessary.”

Furthermore, Mr. Brown was kind enough to condense some of the information found in this study done by the American College Health Association in the Spring of 2014 for a National College Health Assessment into a neat infographic.

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

They tend to show up without warning and indiscriminately. Your hands go cold and become sweaty. An uncontrollable tremor overtakes your body. And you want to faint… right after you puke, that is. A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes (about 10) before slowly subsiding. Panic attacks are usually incredibly frightening for the person who has to deal with it, and they try their absolute best to avoid triggering the experience again. On that note, panic disorder is when you constantly have these panic attacks, seemingly out of nowhere, and it keeps you way too preoccupied with trying to prevent future attacks. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that panic disorder tends to begin in early adulthood, though panic disorder and panic-like symptoms (‘fearful spells’) can show up in children as well.

While the cause isn’t exactly clear, panic disorder tends to be comorbid (simultaneously present) with other mental and physical disorders; and also tends to show up around particularly challenging and stressful life events. When your schedule is hectic and unorganized and life just keeps piling on to the to-do list, it can be extremely overwhelming and incite the dreaded panic attack.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

A black and white rear shot of the back of a woman's head and back, with her head bowed down in sadness

PTSD may seem like a bit of a stretch to some people in this context; usually, when you hear that term it’s associated with wartorn veterans. And while veterans with PTSD do, in fact, return to school with PTSD, there are other types of people who have PTSD. Your average, everyday Joe. People who were victims of physical and sexual abuse at any point in their life. People who got into car accidents or witnessed a shooting at their school. All of these things and more can give a person PTSD and make it incredibly stressful and difficult to deal with the associated triggers of the incident, all while trying to learn. Many find that when they have PTSD, their lives have been completely turned on its head; as such it makes it difficult to navigate after experiencing that highly-stressful situation.

Those with PTSD tend to have similar symptoms: they avoid people, places, things, thoughts, anything that could trigger a traumatizing memory for them. They are hypervigilant and easily arousable, in that they have greater difficulty in staying asleep, or they’re easily irritated or agitated. They relive the same situation repeatedly and experience feelings of guilt, sadness, numbness, and etc.

Drug Abuse and Alcoholism

After a rough day or week of school, your friends invite you to a party. Of course, when you arrive there’s drugs and alcohol available– it’s a college f**king party. Because college and early adulthood is the time to stretch your wings and learn how to fly without your parents telling you ‘no’ at every turn, experimentation is par the course of being a young adult. No matter how you came across drugs and alcohol– even if a crazy-eyed man broke into your fraternity stark naked with a crack pipe in one hand and a bottle of jack in the other– if you try it you risk getting addicted. Especially if you try easily accessible substances like alcohol under a pretense of trying to get rid of stress, you could easily become dependent regardless of whether you have an “addictive personality” or not.

alcohol, art, bottles

In fact, in this article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, they found that alcohol disorders were quite prevalent on campuses, though not as prevalent as the NLAES would suggest. Still, Knight et al estimate that 1 in 20 college students have a 12-month alcohol dependence and even higher for men in the same age group. 1 in 10 men under the age of 24, were diagnosed with alcohol dependence. Unfortunately, the majority of students who were dependent on alcohol did not see themselves as having any sort of dependence. In another study, O’Malley found that 2 out of 5 students were heavy drinkers, defined as five or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks. At this point, it’s pretty clear that there’s a bit of a drinking problem for students on college campuses.

As for drugs, Dual Diagnosis says that the most common drugs for students to abuse and misuse on campus are OTC drugs, prescriptions drugs, party drugs (like ecstasy), marijuana, and etc.  The one most notable, though, is the growing usage of the “study drug” Adderall. A medication used for sufferers of ADD is being handed out amongst students because of its effectiveness to boost attention and energy. The movie on Netflix called “Take Your Pills” is claimed by some to be a good showcase of how students abuse this drug on campus. It is unfortunate to note, however, that 81% of students think that unmoderated use of Adderall or Ritalin is safe despite its high likelihood of dependency. You can read more about it on the Michigan Daily and the Post and Courier.

Sleep Disorders

I’m sure it’s just a rite of passage at this point to be tired all of the time. Because college students are still trying to find a way to manage significant amounts of stress, balancing school life, personal life, and social life can be difficult. In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, they were able to find predictors of sleep quality. In college students, they found that stress was a major predictor of poor sleep quality, as 20% of students reported stress interfering with sleep at least once.

Also, a study done by Gaultney JF on the prevalence of sleep disorders among college students shows that college students were at risk for at least one sleep disorder. Two of the most reported disorders among college students are narcolepsy (a neurological disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness) and insomnia (a persistent issue with falling asleep or staying asleep).

Like we’ve spoken about before, poor quality sleep can result in a sleep debt and that comes with its own host of problems. Some of them are falling asleep during inappropriate times (like driving or operating heavy machinery), depression, poor mood, and poor memory and concentration. A problem specific to college students, however, seems to be a decreased grade point average. When evidence suggested an association between sleep and GPA, the difference was as much as half a grade point (.5) between long sleepers (9 hours or less) who had the higher GPA of 3.4 and short sleepers (6 hours or less) who had the lower grade of 2.4.

OK. So, now that I know that there are tons of people in my immediate area that may be suffering from duck syndrome, I have one question for you:

Do I Have A Solution or Any Suggestions?

abstract, ai, art

At the moment, I’d need to do a bit more research as there are a lot of things that need to be considered when speaking on this subject. I have a few ideas, but it’s going to involve time, effort, and– most importantly– money. Whether they are novel or naive, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. These are just things that I’ve thought about with a few helpful things I’ve read while reading up on this topic.

First and foremost, we need to bring more awareness to mental illness and emphasizing its importance. Then, we need people to accept that these are important and prevalent issues that require immediate attention. As I’ve said before, the strength of a country relies on its people. If half of its people are sick from something completely preventable, then we’re screwed while we look utterly stupid. When those are done, or as they are done– whichever comes first– we can start implementing these I think.

  • Hire more therapists― It’s a simple and straightforward idea, but it requires money. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Conduct more studies to find out the depth of the issue among college students and propose solutions― The more information we have, the better a chance at us being able to find a broad solution.
  • Partner with other schools that are raising psychologists and psychiatrists― Similar to what dental students do for citizens when they need immediate help, this may lessen the burden of having to pay for a therapist as they’re a student and giving the student experience in their field. This may be more of a complicated idea to implement as therapy is an ongoing process and not just a one-time affair in most cases.
  • Hire mindful meditation and loving-kindness professionals― If it will be harder to hire therapists, hire teachers who can help students build their resiliencies while they await getting proper help. Positive psychology works wonders for some people, I know it does with me. 🙂
  • Outfit schools with more safe spaces with therapy animals― Pets have some weird ability to detox your boss of stress. Just by the magic of petting and being around one. It’s strange, but it works.
  • AWARENESS AND ACCEPTANCE x10 ―  Especially for black college students as there seems to be a stigma associated with mental illness in the black community. As a black woman, I can say that I’ve definitely experienced uninformed attitudes like this and it needs to be addressed somehow.  (Article on this coming soon. 😉 )
  • Assistance in dealing with economic uncertainty―  With the way things are now, it creates an overwhelming amount of stress for young adults. So, preparation is key in combating those feelings. Along with educating them and giving them a few ideas on what they can do to mold their future the way they want it to be.
  • Assist with finding outside resources―  If we’re unable to help students on campus, make it a point to help find them some resources outside of school. Working independently with them to make sure that they get the help that they need is a good alternative, I think. This, fortunately, does not require having a therapist on board. Though, a few people with a medical background in this area may make it a ton easier.


Because this article is getting really long, I’ll just list a few websites that I’ve found that have an awesome repository of resources. I’ll add more as I come across them and place the date every time I do. 🙂
NAMI College Guide


We have a lot of work to do on this front. While I believe that our generation has been unintentionally stiffed, I do also think that there is still time to put practices in place to help those going forward. But until then we need to stand strong and make our voices heard else nothing will change.

If I’m not currently struggling with mental health, what can I do to stave off the calls of mental illness? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are your actionable steps. 🙂 Even if you do have a mental illness, these steps can apply to you!

Actionable Steps

1. Join online support communities ― Being apart of a community that understands your struggles can quell a feeling of loneliness. And you might learn some tips that others use that can help you!
2. Eat well  A good diet will help in other areas of your health. When you don’t have to worry about other things like weight gain or more serious things like diabetes, you’ll be able to keep your stress down.
3. Get quality sleep  Restoration of your mental faculties will make it much easier to handle your issues. For more information, here is an article I wrote on it
4. Exercise Exercise helps to fend off anxiety and depression while also increasing your physical health!
5. Practice Self-Love  Take a few minutes a day to tell yourself something nice in the mirror. Let yourself know that it’s OK and that everything will be OK.
6. Meditate ― Meditation allows you to check in on yourself to see how your feeling and in doing so can be really good for combating mental illness.
7. Pets ― Like we said earlier, pets have the ability to ease your mind when you engage with them. If you don’t have a pet, try out a pet cafe, volunteer at a shelter, buy one, or see if there are therapy dogs near you. 🙂
8. Journaling―  When you can put your thoughts on paper, it can ease your mind and help you to think through problems that you may have.
9. Socialize ― Socialization is really good for mental health as you can see from the loneliness article linked above. So, go out and socialize!
10. Download apps to help maintain or promote mental health ― Mental health apps on your phone can give helpful reminders during the day to minimize the amount of stress you accumulate during the day. Here are a few:, eCBT Calm, Anxiety Stopwatch, Breath2Relax, Happify, MindShift, MoodTools, Optimism, and so much more. You can find a lot more on the ADAA website here.

Even if you are plagued by a mental illness, these steps can also help you to keep your sanity, too. A more well-thought-out and comprehensive guide can be found in some of my other articles, though. 🙂

As always, I hope this was helpful and gave you an idea for your next steps in life. Whether that is to become a champion for mental illness in general or at your college. Or to be more aware of your health and make important decisions regarding it. While writing this helps to make me feel better, it’d be awesome if others were able to glean a bit of knowledge from it, as well.

I do have a question for you though: What do you think that we can do to help college students or millennials in general with mental illness? What are some things that you’ve seen or think would help others? I’d love to hear from you and what you think. This is a conversation that really needs to be had, I think. And the more we seriously discuss it, the more ideas we can come up with. So, let’s talk in the comments below!

With that said–

Peace and peace,


Hi, I'm Althia! I love psychology have a particular obsession with promoting mental health. That being said, I have one specific goal that I want to achieve. I want to help millennials to finess mental illness and inspire personal growth one motivational & informational post at a time.

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