Mental health is well worth discussing because it affects everyone. In particular, college students—no matter their age—can experience mental health challenges as they juggle responsibilities and work hard to achieve their goals.
While students focus on academic success, mental well-being tends to slip down their list of priorities. In reality, mental health is an important prerequisite for achieving their goals in a healthy way. A greater focus on mental health in higher education can help students invest in their well-being while also lending more understanding and support to their classmates.
What Is Mental Health Education?
Mental health is a topic that has historically been glossed over, compartmentalized, or otherwise obscured. However, we are beginning to understand the importance of mental health as a part of a person’s overall well-being. That understanding has come, in large part, through mental health education.
Mental health education seeks to raise awareness around mental health issues, informing people about common challenges and conditions, coping strategies, and resources available to help. A better understanding of mental health can remove the stigma around this topic and help students take a more proactive approach to managing struggles like depression and anxiety.
Mental health education comes in various forms. Some students focus heavily on these topics in their college courses if they choose a major such as social work or psychology. But no matter what a person studies, they can learn about mental health through public information campaigns, messages from college administrators and advisors, and online resources like this one!
Mental Health Challenges for College Students
In 2022, 52 percent of college students said they experienced moderate psychological distress, and 25 percent said they experienced serious psychological distress. That means more than three-quarters of students know firsthand what it means to struggle with mental health while in college. In fact, 55 percent of students who have considered dropping out of college cite emotional stress as the reason why they might leave.
It’s important to understand that mental health conditions are not purely circumstantial. The reasons behind them can be physiological. However, circumstances often contribute to common mental health challenges.
Young students and adult learners can experience distress for various reasons, spanning their personal, professional, and academic lives. Some common examples include:
- Feeling pressure to be a high achiever or maintain a standard of perfection.
- Shifting personal values or beliefs.
- Questioning their purpose or rethinking their future.
- Experiencing friction in family or romantic relationships.
- Losing a loved one.
- Having difficulty making or maintaining friendships.
- Experiencing imposter syndrome and feeling inadequate.
- Juggling school, work, and home life.
Any combination of these factors can degrade a person’s mental health and make college more challenging.
Fortunately, mental health challenges do not have the final say in overall well-being—there are measures college students can take to enjoy positive mental health.
Shifting the Narrative on Mental Health
Educating students on mental health starts with simply talking about it. The more we talk about mental health, the more we can remove the stigma around this topic.
Imagine how you would feel telling a friend you were going to physical therapy to work on rebuilding strength after a sports injury. Now imagine how you would feel telling the same friend you’re seeing a counselor or psychologist to work through a mental health condition like generalized anxiety. If you would feel comfortable with the first scenario but not the second, you’re not alone. Many people feel embarrassed about seeking mental health services because they worry they’ll be seen as weak or abnormal.
In a 2021 survey, 45 percent of college students said they believe that “[m]ost people would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment,” and yet, only 6 percent said they would think less of someone for receiving treatment. In other words, we’re more afraid of what others think than we should be. In reality, other students are likely experiencing many of the same challenges. But even if they’re not, they would not think less of someone for prioritizing their mental health.
By educating the public, mental health advocates (including college administrators, staff, and students) and mental health professionals are actively trying to change the negative mental health narrative that has kept people from seeking help or discussing their challenges openly. Rather than a taboo topic to shy away from, mental health should be acknowledged and embraced as central to our daily lives.
This understanding extends to all of our relationships. Even when someone is struggling with something that a person can’t relate to firsthand, they can still validate their experience and offer a listening ear or encouragement to help them feel valued and supported.
Raising Awareness of Mental Health Resources
In addition to combatting stigmas and misconceptions, mental health education also informs students of coping strategies and resources to help them improve their mental health.
For example, this might include counseling services (either in-person or online) or spiritual enrichment opportunities. In some cases, students may need to see a clinical social worker or psychiatrist to receive a diagnosis for a mental health condition and begin treatment through methods such as:
- Talk therapy
- Prescription medications
- Support groups
When a learner experiences distress due to circumstantial factors, some resources may help them directly address these root causes. Academic advisors, career advisors, and others can help students overcome obstacles and answer questions, leaving them feeling more confident and less stressed. For example, a career advisor can help students think through their goals and passions to ensure they’re on the right career track.
More flexible college programs can also give students the freedom to work on coursework on their own time and avoid overloading themselves. This can help them balance priorities while working steadily toward their goals.
Choose a Learning Community That Values Your Well-Being
Mental health is a vital aspect of a person’s overall well-being. No matter a person’s stage of life or circumstances, struggles like stress, depression, or anxiety can affect anyone. Mental health education can help everyone—college students included—legitimize these struggles, have empathy for others, and seek resources and treatment to help.
At MVNU, we believe in supporting the whole learner, which means helping you prioritize your mental well-being. Our on-campus and online learners are part of a compassionate, supportive community of peers, administrators, and instructors. You can also access resources to help you succeed academically, personally, and professionally. No one should have to go it alone.
College can be challenging, but the best college programs will support you and can become one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of your life. Want to find the right program for you? Check out our resource, The Best Online Programs for Working Adults!