How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health As A College Student

A tablet sitting on a table with the words mental health wellness on the screen

College students are busy. Their life is demanding and full of responsibilities. Between classes and assignments, friends, family, work, and hobbies, they have hectic schedules that can bring an immense amount of pressure. It’s not uncommon for college students to become chronically stressed and have it affect their mental health. Therefore, it’s important they take care of themselves. Knowing how to take care of your mental health while in college will ensure your academic success and well-being.

Mental Health In College Students

Mental health issues have steadily increased year over year for students. The statistics are staggering and are cause for concern. In 2021, more than a third (37%) of high school students experienced poor mental health during the prior year (CDC). Up to 44% of college students reported having symptoms of depression and anxiety (Mayo Clinic).

As many as 75% of college students who struggle with depression and anxiety are reluctant to seek help (Mayo Clinic). There are many resources available to college students that are free and confidential. It’s important to get the help you need and encourage others to get the help they need. According to, College Student’s Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health, more than 45 percent of those who stopped attending college because of mental health-related reasons did not receive accommodations. Additionally, 50 percent of them did not access mental health services and support.

Why Are College Students Struggling

Many factors contribute to college students’ stress. Not only do they have busy schedules and responsibilities, but they also have increased pressure to be “successful.” This pressure may be societal, from parents, from academic scholarships, or from college students’ own aspirations. Many college students have high expectations and strive for success. The stress to perform well can become excessive and is a danger to a student’s mental health.

Poor Mental Health Habits In High School

Some of the reasons, college students struggle with their mental health start as early as middle and high school. High school students experience pressure to be the best student and get straight A’s. With the rising costs of college, high school students are focused on creating the best-looking academic portfolio to get merit to be able to afford to go to college.

More and more high school students who are set on having a “successful” academic career have already demanding schedules. Not only is their class workload demanding they typically participate in several extracurricular activities like sports and clubs and they intentionally take harder college-level classes (AP) throughout high school. As a result, their mental health suffers, and they develop habits that aren’t healthy in college.

Living Away From Parents Is Stressful

Living away from parents for the first time can be stressful. It’s often thought that when a student turns 18 or graduates from high school they are magically “ready” to be an adult and to take on the roles and responsibilities of adulthood. This simply isn’t the case for many high school seniors.

Becoming an adult is different for every college student. But one factor remains the same, they are faced with new responsibilities. These new responsibilities may include, showing up to class, cooking and planning your meals, cleaning, laundry, managing your money, paying bills, getting a job, and managing your time. Many high school students have developed some of these skills but not all of them. It can be overwhelming and many students need support with the transition into living independently.

Lack Of Adequate Sleep

Sleep is very important. It is an essential part of one’s physical and mental health and it is directly correlated with academic performance. Lack of adequate sleep can be a result of college students’ choices during the day. With the rise in electronic communication and digital media, there’s a decline in sleep duration. This may be due to spending time before bed on phones or staying up late on social media or watching TV. Also, consuming too much caffeine or alcohol can negatively affect sleep.

Additionally, many college students struggle with time management and they don’t set aside enough hours each night to get adequate sleep. Health issues may also affect the quality of sleep such as undiagnosed sleep apnea, depression, or anxiety. Sleep is important for students because it is how they take a break from all the stress.

Substance Misuse

There’s a strong connection between substance use and mental illness. According to the National Bureau Of Economic Research (NBER), people with a history of mental illness are 25% more likely to consume alcohol, 69% more likely to consume cocaine, and 94% more likely to consume cigarettes. Alcohol use is linked to depression. Alcohol can affect concentration and decision-making. The misuse of drugs and/or alcohol can lead to difficulty paying attention in classes and completing assignments. The Addiction Center states, “People suffering from depression have approximately a 10% lifetime suicide risk. When combined with substance abuse, the suicide risk rises to about 25%.”

When students go off to college they are exposed to drugs that are readily available. This could be new to them as they are no longer under the watchful eye of their parents. The most easily accessed drugs on college campuses are stimulants, marijuana, cocaine, psychedelics, and painkillers. The overuse of these drugs can quickly become harmful to the students, academic performance, relationships, work, and well-being.

How Parents Can Help With Mental Health WhileTheir Students Are In College

Parents can help their high school and college students by setting reasonable educational expectations. No student is perfect and expecting perfection is unrealistic. Also building independent living skills such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other chores while they are still at home will prepare them for the responsibilities of college. Teaching money management skills, like how to use a checking account, read a bank statement, how to create a simple budget, teaching them the difference between wanting and needing something, and how to save money, before they leave home will help them build a good financial foundation. If you’d like some budgeting ideas read, Budgeting Tips For College Students.

Just like sleep, downtime is essential. Encourage scheduling downtime from school and activities. You can only do so much before you’re oversaturated mentally and physically and need a break. Your brain and body need rest every so often. Taking small breaks can improve your mood and increase your ability to concentrate and pay attention. Students who don’t take breaks are more likely to experience burnout and stress and ultimately mental health problems. Teach your students to schedule some downtime, even if it is as simple as taking a walk to decompress.

Family Support In College

The importance of family support when going to college is significant. According to recent studies, students with family support are more likely to succeed academically than those without. The support I’m talking about is not financial, it’s the kind of support that money can’t buy— emotional support. Emotional support is about providing reassurance, encouragement, comfort, empathy, acceptance, trust, and love. Emotional support shows a greater impact on students than any other type. Mental health in college students hinges on how involved their families are, this is why Family Support When Going To College Is So Important.

Know The Signs Of Depression

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Lack of concentration
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Sense of helplessness or despair
  • Anger
  • Suicidal thoughts
A woman sitting at a table wearing glasses, her head propped on her hand with a look of depression and worry on her face

Know The Situations That May Trigger Depression Or Anxiety

  • Stressful life events
  • Grief or loss
  • Relationship breakup
  • Sexual assault or harassment
  • Health issues
  • Financial concerns
  • Fear of failure or disappointing others
  • Parties or social events
  • Rejection
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Life transitions, whether positive or negative
  • Personal triggers

What College Students Can Do

Below are some things that college students and high school students that are preparing for college can do to manage their mental health.

High school students should check out the 6 High School Habits You Should Drop Before College.

Don’t Be A Perfectionist

Generally, a perfectionist will do very well in their classes and on their assignments because they have turned in their best work. However, perfectionism may result in unhealthy habits. Such as procrastination. Perfectionists may struggle with turning in assignments that aren’t their best work or getting anything less than an A. Perfectionism can also lead to anxiety and depression. It’s important to learn how to strike a balance.

During high school, getting straight A’s might have been easy and perfectionist tendencies may not have been an issue. But it’s important to acknowledge that generally, college classes are more time-consuming and intense than high school classes. Be sure to read all about why getting straight A’s in college is not necessary.

Practice your time management and aim for completing your tasks. Remember that sometimes a completed assignment is better than a perfect assignment because you will be able to complete other assignments and dedicate time and energy to other important tasks.

Consider Living At Home Or Close To Family While In College

Living at home while attending college needs to be the norm.  There are several perks of living at home during college, including emotional support. When I went to college I lived at home. I earned 3 degrees in 4 years (AS, BS, MBA) and worked full-time. I was busy, to say the least. The emotional support that I received from my family was priceless. They were instrumental in my success. My family encouraged and motivated me, proofread papers, and helped me study, they were a sounding board when I was frustrated, and when I was overwhelmed, they reminded me of my goals and how strong and determined I was. They celebrated a good grade, a job well done, and another semester down. They were always there, present and engaged and it was beneficial in so many ways.

Create A Sleep Routine

Creating a bedtime routine is important and consistency is key. You can set an alarm or notification on your phone to remind you. The goal is to train your body to sleep at a specific time.

Take a little time to wind down and relax before bed each night. You can do this by, creating a bedtime playlist, reading a book, taking a warm shower or bath, having a cup of tea, or even doing a little stretching or yoga. Meditation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises are also good ways to ease into sleep. Two great apps for this are Insight Timer (I personally use it) or Calm. Their free versions are more than adequate.

Be sure to turn off all electronics, the light from these devices makes it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid caffeine and alcohol several hours before bed. Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule to avoid disturbing the circadian rhythm that regulates wakefulness.

Manage Stress Through Diet and Nutrition

Eating a balanced and healthful diet helps your body manage stress. It increases energy, helps with focus and concentration, and increases your immune system. Stay away from excessive caffeine, alcohol, and drugs.

College students should keep healthy snacks in their backpacks. Nuts, seeds, trail mix, granola bars, and some energy bars contain good nutrition. Toss in some fresh fruit and veggies that travel well, like apples, bananas, oranges, mandarins, baby carrots, celery sticks, and cherry tomatoes. Always have water handy, staying hydrated is vital.

What Resources Are Available

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with mental health challenges, you are not alone and there are free and confidential resources available to you.

Call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Established in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a voluntary health organization that gives those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death.

Crisis Text Line

In a crisis and need to talk to someone? The Crisis Text Line will connect you with a counselor. Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, all from their secure online platform. The volunteer Crisis Counselor will help you move from a hot moment to a cool moment.

Jed Foundation

The Jed Foundation is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults, giving them the skills and support they need to thrive today…and tomorrow.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI provides advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.

National Eating Disorders Association

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures, and access to quality care. Contact the NEDA Helpline by call or text at 1 (800)-931-2237 or the online chat.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. It provides information on mental health services and treatment centers through a service locator.

Campus Resources

Each college and university offers free resources to its students. Be sure to visit your college’s website or in person at your Campus Health Center. Campus Health Centers offer expanded services to help college students deal with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.