how to solve mental health issues of students

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Home / Parenting, Kids & Teens / Depression in college students: How to help students manage their mental health

Depression in college students: How to help students manage their mental health

how to solve mental health issues of students

Parents hope college will be a time for their kids to spread their wings and fly. Yet college students are now experiencing record high rates of depression and anxiety. During the 2022-2023 academic year, 41% of students reported experiencing symptoms of depression and 36% said they experienced anxiety, according to the latest Healthy Minds Study . Understandably, parents want to know what they can do to help their college age kids manage their mental health so depression doesn’t dock their wings.

Any single case of depression can have multiple causes involving a mix of biological, genetic or social factors. However, one common cause of depression in college students is the sheer scope of change that comes with moving on from the familiar world of home and high school, according to Paige I. Partain, M.D., a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minnesota, with expertise in child and adolescent mental health.

In addition to changes in housing and social connections, going to college typically accelerates academic expectations. It also scrambles students’ sleep, diet and exercise patterns. For some college students — even those with no history of depression — having so many facets of their lives suddenly challenged and changed can create enough stress to trigger depression, says Dr. Partain

She adds, however, that it’s important “for parents and students alike to recognize that depression can be totally untriggered.” Sometimes students can be on top of their coursework, getting along with new friends and otherwise outwardly crushing college when they sense that their moods have dipped.

If students are baffled about why they’re feeling down, helping them understand that sometimes depression occurs without an identifiable cause is important. It can help relieve the added burden of wondering what’s wrong with them — or blaming themselves — for feeling depressed.

Says Dr. Partain, “I can’t express enough what a difference it makes when I’m talking to teenagers or young adults in their early twenties and I can explain that sometimes it just happens. It can be even more frustrating when you don’t know why depression happens. But I can see the relief in their eyes. They’re like, ‘Yes, you get it.’ To be able to just empathize and label the phenomena can be incredibly powerful.”

Spotting signs of depression in college students

Along with feeling sad and down, common signs of depression in college kids include:

  • Changes in appetite such as eating more or less than usual.
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or sleeping too much.
  • Losing in interest in favorite pastimes including playing sports, making art or hanging out with friends. “Isolation is a really key symptom, particularly for teens and young adults,” says Dr. Partain.

People often experience depression and anxiety at the same time , and college kids are no exception. Determining which one came first can be a “chicken or the egg” question, says Dr. Partain. But big shifts in a student’s mood and behavior may indicate underlying depression.

“If your kid is not one who tends to be anxious, and all of a sudden, there’s worry about everything, that might be an indicator of a problem with mood.” On the flip side, she says, if your kid is usually “a type-A go-getter, and normally a little more anxious, and all of a sudden the work isn’t getting done and grades are slipping, that can also be an indicator that there’s a problem with mood.”

Irritability is another common symptom of depression. “We think a lot about feeling sad or down, and that can certainly be the case for a teenager or a young adult. But there is good medical research to suggest that irritability might be an even better indicator of underlying mood problems,” says Dr. Partain. “It’s another textbook symptom to be aware of.”

What to say if your child seems depressed

Sometimes, parents who think their kids might be depressed are wary of butting into their business. Or they may keep quiet because they’re just not sure how to talk about depression. If parents ask Dr. Partain if they should try talking to their child’s friends or professors about their concerns, she advises them not to go around their child’s back.

Rather, Dr. Partain recommends that parents raise their concerns with their kids in a straightforward way. “As you’re trying to help children develop independence and capability — regardless of the dynamic that you have with your child — I advocate for talking with kids directly.”

To get a better sense of how children are feeling, Dr. Partain says it’s fine to initiate the conversation by text with a simple message like this: Just checking in to say I love you. How are you doing? I want to make sure you’re doing okay.

Let them know that you’re concerned and let them respond in their own time.

If your child shares feelings of being depressed or anxious, make it clear that you’re available to help in whatever way works. “You can ask, ‘Do you want my help, or is this something you want to take care of on your own?’ The biggest thing to avoid is invalidating language: ‘You’ll get over it.’ ‘Going to college is just hard,’ ” says Dr. Partain. “Parents might find a slightly different approach for every kid, but they should feel empowered to speak up because parents can play a powerful role in helping children understand what they’re experiencing.”

Help your college kid develop strategies to cope with depression

With college students experiencing depression or anxiety for the first time, parents can share self-care strategies that have been proved to ease symptoms of depression, including:

  • Exercising .
  • Connecting with friends.
  • Eating healthy foods.
  • Spending time in nature.
  • Getting adequate sleep, as young adults need between seven and nine hours a night
  • Finding a community on campus, whether it be with a group of fellow ultimate Frisbee fans or a religious or political organization.

If students are experiencing any kind of acute or prolonged dip in mood, their parents can also encourage them to seek treatment and help them navigate campus mental health resources. As students’ mental health becomes a central part of the conversation on college and university campuses, Dr. Partain says that more schools are preemptively providing students and parents with information about counseling and medical services.

“I encourage all parents to keep that information handy,” she says. “Even if you have a kid who’s done great and never had difficulty with mental health, it’s helpful to know about available resources, so if your child reaches the point of saying, ‘Mom, Dad, what do I do?’ you can help provide answers.”

Parents can also provide important support to students who have a history of depression, Dr. Partain says. If your child is taking an antidepressant, you can ask the healthcare professional to dispense the prescription in a 90-day supply, with refills that can be obtained at a pharmacy near campus.

As students in Dr. Partain’s care are preparing to transition to college, she has a conversation with them about their specific symptoms of depression. She also reviews the self-care strategies that have helped them feel better in the past. “Depression looks different for everyone, and it’s important for students to do the mental exercise of saying, What does it look like for me? Is it that I’m isolating myself? Is it that I’m less talkative? Is it that I’m more irritable? Is it that I don’t enjoy reading anymore?” says Dr. Partain.

The point of the conversation is to help students become more self-aware about what depression looks like for them, and spot early warning signs so they can act quickly to protect their emotional health. She encourages parents and children to have a version of this conversation together, too, and to develop a shared relapse prevention plan.

Then, if students begin to feel depression coming back while they’re away at college, their parents can reinforce whatever self-care strategies have helped get through rough patches before. For students already seeing therapists, noticing an uptick in symptoms can prompt them to reach out to ask for some extra sessions, with help from parents if needed.

“Almost all therapy providers have the ability to treat people who are in crisis or who feel like they’re significantly worsening. The same goes for healthcare professionals if students are on a medication. If I get a message from a college kid saying, ‘My mood is getting a lot worse,’ I’m going to get them seen within a week, and many other healthcare professionals will too,” says Dr. Partain.

Create a crisis plan

If students have had inpatient treatment or thoughts of suicide in any context in the past, it’s also critically important for them and their parents to have shared emergency safety plans. This can be activated if students ever becomes severely distressed again.

“Sometimes, depending on the family dynamic, the safety plan may not include having the child call the parent. The plan for the child may be calling Aunt Jane, or calling Grandma. But it’s really powerful for the parents to be able to reinforce that and say, ‘That’s OK. I want you to be safe,’ ” says Dr. Partain.

A common worry she hears from parents is that discussing suicide may make it more likely that their child will contemplate or attempt suicide. But, she says, there’s no data showing that talking about suicide makes people more likely to attempt it. In fact, it does the opposite : “Talking about it makes it easier for them to seek help in the moment. The way I phrase it to my patients is, ‘I’m really glad that you’re not having those kinds of thoughts. But I know things can change quickly, and this safety plan is just something we want to have in our back pocket.” Parents don’t have to hammer on the subject,” she adds, “but it’s an important conversation to have, and I wouldn’t avoid it.”

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For educators.

Educators are often the first to notice mental health problems in children and young adults. Here are some ways you can help your students and their families.

What Educators Should Know

You should know:

  • The warning signs for mental health problems.
  • How to promote mental health and substance use prevention in schools and on campuses.
  • Whom to turn to, such as the principal, school nurse, school psychiatrist or psychologist, or school social worker, if you have questions or concerns about a student's behavior.
  • How to access crisis support and other mental health services .

What Educators Should Look for in Student Behavior

Consult with a school counselor, nurse, or administrator and the student's parents if you observe one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Seriously trying to harm oneself, or making plans to do so
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Involvement in many fights or desire to badly hurt others
  • Severe out-of-control behavior that can hurt oneself or others
  • Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to make oneself lose weight
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still that puts the student in physical danger or causes problems in the classroom
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Drastic changes in the student's behavior or personality

What Educators Can Do in Classrooms and Schools

You can support the mental health of all students in your classroom and school, not just individual students who may exhibit behavioral issues. Consider the following actions:

  • Learn more about mental health by taking a mental health awareness training
  • Promote social and emotional competency and build resilience
  • Help ensure a positive, safe school environment
  • Teach and reinforce positive behaviors and decision-making
  • Encourage helping others
  • Encourage good physical health
  • Help ensure access to school-based mental health supports

Developing Effective School Mental Health Programs

Efforts to care for the emotional well-being of children and youth can extend beyond the classroom and into the entire school. School-based mental health programs can focus on promoting mental wellness, preventing mental health problems, and providing treatment.

Effective programs:

  • Promote the healthy social and emotional development of all children and youth
  • Recognize when young people are at risk for, or are experiencing, mental health problems
  • Identify how to intervene early and appropriately when there are problems

Learn More about Ways to Support Your Students and Their Families

  • Learn evidence-based strategies for supporting student mental health in the classroom
  • Work with your state, district, and school to learn about school mental health and develop a school mental health program
  • Access resources for educators, administrators, and school mental health professionals
  • Coping tips for traumatic events and disasters
  • If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat .
  • To learn how to get support for mental health, drug, and alcohol issues, visit .
  • To locate treatment facilities or providers, visit or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) .
  • School and Campus Health
  • Talk. They Hear You. School and Educator Resources
  • Schools This Year… Supporting Student and Staff Mental Health: Tips for Educators and Mental Health Professionals
  • Psychological First Aid (PFA) for students and teachers: Listen, protect, connect – model and teach
  • Continuing Education for Professionals Concerned with Trauma

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Provider search, wordpress meta data and taxonomies filter, college student mental health, 10 things college students can do to help their mental health.

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Student mental health challenges are real, and colleges struggle to keep up. The college years can be some of the most stressful and overwhelming times in a young person’s life. Balancing academics, social activities, and personal responsibilities can affect even the most well-adjusted student’s mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 4 college students has a diagnosable mental illness .

Mental health is an integral part of our well-being. It affects our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Good mental health means you can cope well with stress, have positive relationships with friends and family, manage tense situations, and maintain a balanced mood.

If you’re a college student, you may be dealing with high-stress levels from studying for exams , meeting new people, managing your time efficiently to balance your new social life and academic responsibilities, and more. Mental health issues such as anxiety , depression, eating disorders , and substance abuse are also common among young adults.

Whether you struggle with your mental health regularly or feel like your stress levels are reaching a breaking point during college (as many students do), there are some ways that you can help your mental state while in school. Here are some tips to keep your mind healthy while attending college:

1.  Get Enough Sleep

Most people need around eight hours of sleep per night. College students often don’t get enough sleep because of late-night studying or socializing. Getting enough sleep is essential for both physical and mental health.

Getting the sleep you need is important both mentally and physically. Many students find that they get less sleep in college, which can affect their mental state. Try to develop a sleep routine and bedtime that work for you.

For example, you might want to go to bed an hour earlier than you did in high school since you will likely be busier as a college student. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can try some relaxation techniques.

You can also reduce your caffeine intake and minimize your screen time before bed. Getting enough sleep can help you feel less stressed and better rested each day, which can help you focus better and have a healthier mental state overall.

2.  Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating nutritious foods helps the body function at its best. Unfortunately, college students often eat unhealthy diets consisting of fast food and processed snacks, which can lead to physical and mental health problems.

Eating well is vital for physical health, but it can also help reduce stress. You don’t have to change your diet completely, but try eating three healthy meals daily. This will help you stay energized and focused, reducing your stress levels.

It’s also recommended to drink around eight glasses of water a day. This will help you stay hydrated and reduces the likelihood of headaches. It’s also important to avoid sugar, which can make you feel more stressed.

You don’t have to overhaul your diet completely, but making a few small changes can go a long way.

3.  Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. It also reduces stress and anxiety . College students should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.

Being physically active can help you improve your mental state and your overall wellness. You don’t have to join a sports team or do something competitive to be physically active, though finding a group activity with others who share your interests can be helpful.

You can also walk or do yoga on your own or take advantage of the gym on your campus. Being physically active can help reduce stress, stay healthy, and feel better overall. Joining a gym or finding a sport you like can be a great way to meet new people and become more active in college.

Again, you don’t have to do something competitive to be physically active—you need to move your body and get some exercise every day.

4.  Take Breaks

It’s essential to take breaks from studying or working on projects.

Taking 10-15 minute breaks every couple of hours can help improve focus and concentration. College campuses usually have many things, so there are plenty of opportunities to take breaks.

Mental health care is important and should be a priority for college students. Academic performance is important, but so is taking care of yourself . Make sure to schedule time for things like exercise, relaxation, and socializing.

5.  Connect with Others

College mental health support can be found in many different ways. Friends, family, and support groups can all provide college mental health help.

Spending time with family and friends can reduce stress and improve one’s mood. College students should make an effort to connect with others on a regular basis.

6.  Seek Professional Help

Many mental health providers offer services specifically for college students . These providers can help with things like anxiety, depression, and stress. Counseling and therapy are both great options for these issues.

If someone is struggling with mental health issues, it’s important to seek professional help. Many resources are available for college students, such as counseling or student health services. Mental health concerns should be taken seriously, and professional help should be sought if needed.

Mental health professionals might recommend mental health treatment, such as therapy or medication. Mental health treatment can be very effective for reducing stress, improving mental health, and helping someone function better.

7.  Try Meditation and Breathing Exercises

Meditation can be a helpful technique to improve both your mental health and your overall wellness. Some studies suggest that meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve attention, and increase one’s ability to focus.

You can try different styles of meditation, including guided meditations, breathwork exercises, or even mindful movements like yoga. Another easy way to use meditation to help improve your mental state is to focus on your breath throughout the day.

This can help you slow down, center yourself, and reduce stress levels when you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious. If you’re struggling with anxiety, try to practice one of these exercises daily. You may notice a change in your mental state after just a few weeks.

8.  Go For a Walk

We all know that exercise is essential to help keep our bodies healthy. Research suggests that exercise can also help improve mood, reduce stress, and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression .

A simple way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine is to go for a walk . Not only will this help you to stay active, but it can also be a great way to de-stress after a long day of classes. You can also try other physical activities to help keep your body and mind healthy, such as yoga or strength training.

While you should always check with your doctor to see what exercises are best for you, staying active while in college is essential, this can help you to reduce stress, stay healthy, and feel better overall. It can also help you to focus better on your studies and have a better attention span.

9. Talk to Someone You Trust

One of the most important things you can do for your mental health (and overall health in general) is to build a support system. Having a few people to turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed can make a big difference in your life.

While many campuses offer mental health resources like counseling, it’s important to remember that these are not one-size-fits-all solutions.

One-on-one counseling and mental health services are excellent for those struggling, but it is not always the best solution for most students to address mental health issues and meet their social needs.

Some alternatives include joining a club or group with people who share your interests and creating a support network with faculty and staff on your campus. This can help you to get the social connection you need and deserve while in college and can also help to reduce your stress levels and improve your mental state.

10. Try Mindfulness Practices

As you start to feel more confident in your ability to use meditation and breathing exercises, you can also try other helpful mindfulness practices for anxiety and stress. For example, you can try anxiety-reducing visualization where you imagine yourself in a calm, safe place.

You can also try gratitude exercises , where you list three things you’re grateful for each day or a 5-minute breathing exercise that can be done anywhere. Mindfulness practices involve focusing on the present moment without judgment.

This can help you reduce your stress, learn to let go of negative thoughts and feelings, and gain a better understanding of yourself and your emotions. Many academic institutions have courses and events, such as mindfulness days, where students can come together to practice these methods.

Final Thoughts

College can be a very stressful time for students, but there are things you can do to help reduce your stress and improve your mental health. From building a support system of friends and faculty to staying active and practicing mindfulness, there are many things college students can do to help their mental health.

Finding what works best for you is important, as everyone is different. However, by implementing some of these methods into your life, you can start to feel better and manage your stress more positively.

Your mental health is just as important as physical health. College students can improve their overall well-being by caring for their mental health.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

About the Author: Frances Lalu is a contributing writer at Campus Colors . She specializes in health and wellness, promoting the health of individuals to be healthier and more productive.

Photo by Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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To Improve Student Mental Health, We Need More Than Crisis Response

By Kevin Singer and Sam Ludlow-Broback

Stressed student sits at computer

A recent CDC survey discovered that 37% of U.S. high school students reported regular mental health struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recently declared this crisis a national emergency.

As the mental health conversation has evolved, schools have become at the forefront of mental health initiatives. 30% of all students who receive mental health services find that support in schools  — making our education system the most accessed mental health delivery system by children and adolescents.

As schools and universities rush to keep up with the increasing demand for mental health resources, students say that what’s currently being offered at school to address mental health is not enough

The Issues Students Are Facing

In our new study from Springtide Research Institute that surveyed over 3,000 students and interviewed 80 more, students said their schools often provide “performative,” “inconsistent” and “reactive” mental health interventions — like providing support dogs during finals week — but fail to sustain a mental-health friendly culture at school that supports students consistently.

Offering Only Performative Resources

“In my university context, performative mental-health resources, especially those that aren’t long-term, do more harm than good,” explained Lana, a 22-year-old university student. “Bringing in dogs to pet at the library during finals does not address the core element of why students have an uptick in hotline calls from stress and anxiety during finals and the weeks leading up to them.” She went on to say, “Therapy dogs aren’t going to solve that. We need consistent mental health resources that address how academia is structured to make students stressed.”

Not Addressing the Stress that Comes from School

Students also expressed frustration that school initiatives don’t address the underlying reasons for stress — namely, the stressors that come from school.

Julie, a 17-year-old high school student, explained, “Even guidance counselors at school will be like, ‘Oh, is everything okay? Oh no, it’s not? Well, I’ll help you, but you have to get a good grade on your test because you don’t want your grades suffering.’” Julie explained that what students need is “somebody to talk to who’s going to help us — who doesn’t have any motive besides just wanting us to get better. Our guidance counselors, even though they’re great, they have that mode of like, ‘Okay, how are we going to pass those classes?’”

Prioritizing Getting into College Over Students’ Health

Additionally, students say their schools seem to encourage the pressure to achieve constant success and to be perpetually busy for the singular goal of getting into college. Sophie, Sofia and Acadia, all high school students, told Springtide they are rarely encouraged to pursue goals and activities that aren’t directly related to college ambitions.

“We are expected to do clubs, sports, AP classes, college classes and work, all so that we can get into a good college,” they said in a combined statement. “At times, it seems that schools’ systems push the idea of college and career so much that they forget to tend to students’ hearts and souls.”

Focusing Solely on Crisis Response

A major issue with school initiatives to address mental health is that they often fail to address the systemic nature of the mental health crisis. What is currently happening in most schools, students say, is crisis response , when what's really needed is crisis prevention .

This doesn’t negate the importance of crisis response; schools and educators place focus there for good reason. However, the problem arises when schools simply default to a crisis response that is “inconsistent, and frankly, doing more for the university’s image than the well-being of their students,” Lana, a 22-year-old university student, explained.

What Can We Do?

We must expand the conversation from the individual — that is, moving away from asking what one person can be doing differently to improve their own mental health — and begin to address the issue as a collective concern: What can organizations, groups and schools specifically do to better support the mental health of their young people?

As sociologists, we know our role is not to do the work of therapists, teachers, counselors, etc. Instead, our work is to shine light on what young people are telling us. When it comes to the resources and tools they need to thrive in their mental health, we noticed a few themes.

Encouraging Social Support

Students thrive when schools promote deep social connections. These connections engender a sense of belonging for young people, which is essential to their mental wellness. Springtide has identified that a sense of belonging requires that young people feel noticed, named and known. Teachers play a special role here: Students who had a meaningful interaction with a teacher or professor were significantly less likely to feel lonely at school.

Updating Curriculum to Consider Students’ Mental Health

Students need to have achievable expectations and the tools they need to meet those expectations. A school cannot authentically say they prioritize mental health if they are giving their students enough homework to keep them up past midnight to get the grades they desire. Schools needs to take a proactive approach to curriculum design so that teachers can get the best out of their students academically while accepting their mental health needs.

Fostering a Sense of Purpose

Schools have an opportunity to create a sense of purpose in young people. There’s a prevailing sense among young people that their purpose at school is to get good grades. But fostering purpose at school also means encouraging young people to find their connection to something bigger than themselves —what they want to accomplish, who they want to become and how they want to make a difference. Students discovering a bigger purpose at school, we found, are more likely to say they’re “flourishing a lot” in their mental health.

If schools commit to fostering a mental-health friendly culture that deepens social connections, provides the tools students need to meet achievable expectations and promotes a sense of purpose in young people — they will be better equipped to prevent mental health crises and enable all students to thrive.

Kevin Singer is Head of Media and Public Relations at Springtide Research Institute and a professor at two community colleges.

Sam Ludlow-Broback is a Media Relations Intern for Springtide Research Institute.

Springtide Research Institute’s report, “Mental Health & Gen Z: What Educators Need to Know,” is available for purchase here .

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8 ways teachers can support students' mental health during covid-19 school returns, transitioning back to in-person classroom learning..

Students in a school in Madagascar

As adults, we all have diverse needs and different ways of coping with stressful situations. For children, it is the same. Some children will have dealt well with restrictions and school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For others, it is challenging to cope with all the changes and uncertainty. Some children will return to school having experienced some level of stress, anxiety, isolation and grief. Some may have experienced increased violence at home.   School teachers and personnel are critical in supporting children's transition back to in-person classroom learning, particularly after extended periods of school closure. In addition to continuing to use the different skills teachers have been using to ensure their students' learning and emotional well-being while schools were closed, the following suggestions might be helpful when schools reopen:

1.    Listen to children’s concerns

COVID-19 and school closures impacted many children and adolescents' mental health and well-being. As teachers, it is essential to listen to students' concerns and demonstrate understanding as well as empathy. Offer your students the opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with you to reconnect and discuss any concerns that might have arisen when their school was closed. If a child shares anything that is particularly concerning, please follow the protection or child safeguarding systems in place.

2.    Check how children are doing

Before teaching new academic content to students, teachers and school personnel should take time to check how children are doing. Remember that children may have difficulty concentrating at first or may need more time to get back into the routine of learning. Provide opportunities for children to take breaks, move around, and re-connect with their friends and peers.

3.    Provide children with accurate information around COVID-19

As children return to school, they may have different thoughts and questions about COVID-19. Children want and need factual information. Use child-friendly and age-appropriate resources available in your country/region that is based on scientific evidence to respond to children's questions about COVID-19 accurately. 

While it is important to acknowledge the scale of what is happening globally, make sure to emphasize all the efforts made and precautions taken to reduce risks in the school reopening plans. Do not forget to remind children of school safety protocols, including what to do in case there is a COVID-19 case detected in the classroom.

4.     Seek suggestions from children on how to create a welcoming, safe and comfortable classroom 

Engage children in making the classroom a welcoming, safe and comfortable space. When doing so, make sure to respect school safety procedures and use available material resources.  Children can provide suggestions; help decorate the walls of the classroom with colourful and welcoming messages and work in small groups so they can support each other to catch up on learning. Let them know that being supportive of each other will help them get through this together. Remember to praise children for their contributions and efforts. Teachers can foster feelings of safety and security by interacting and developing positive relationships with each student and using routines during the day to help children feel safe and secure.

5.    Watch out for any warning signs of child behaviour that interferes with their ability to explore, play and learn

Be attentive to changes in children's behaviours. If you notice significant changes in a student’s behaviour and this persists over time, preventing them from functioning or playing, please follow school protocol, and/ or seek additional support and guidance. Teachers can provide lots of support if they feel a child is struggling. However, you should seek additional support and refer children to child protection services, primary care physicians, or mental health professionals if you feel the child needs specialist help.

Continue providing learning support, as well as guidance, and provide extra support or go at a slower pace if a child is finding it difficult to learn or concentrate.

6.    Encourage play and sports to promote interaction between students

In many countries children have been following strict physical distance measures and have been prevented from using playgrounds and other public spaces to play and interact with their peers. Make sure that when children return to school that they have lots of opportunities to socialize, play and interact with the peers they have missed for so long, in line with school safety protocols. 

7.    Model good coping behaviours for students – be calm, honest, and caring

Teachers can be positive role models for their students. Children will look at you and learn from the skills you use daily to deal with stressful situations. Be calm, honest, and caring, and demonstrate  a positive attitude to children.

8.    Take care of yourself and know your limits

Teaching can be an extremely stressful profession, particularly now. Make sure to protect your own physical and mental health (e.g. maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits, rest, exercise, connect with friends, family, and colleagues). Remember to seek support if you notice yourself experiencing significant feelings of distress.

Related resources  

  • Ready to Come Back: Teacher Preparedness Training Package
  • Framework for Reopening Schools
  • WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19  

More to explore

Covid-19 response.

Resources and information about UNICEF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Self-care tips for teachers

How to ease anxiety and reduce the impact of stress on your health

How to reduce stress and support student well-being

Activities for teachers to support student mental health.

Classroom precautions during COVID-19

Tips for teachers to protect themselves and their students

Students Get Real About Mental Health—and What They Need from Educators

Explore more.

  • Perspectives
  • Student Support

M ental health issues among college students have skyrocketed . From 2013 to 2021, the number of students who reported feelings of depression increased 135 percent, and the number of those with one or more mental health problems doubled. Simply put, the well-being of our students is in jeopardy.

To deepen our understanding of this crisis, we asked 10 students to speak candidly about their mental health. We learned that the issues they face are uniquely theirs and yet collectively ours. We hope these responses will inform your teaching and encourage you to create safe classroom spaces where students feel seen and supported.

Students Share Their Mental Health Struggles—and What Support They Need

We asked these students and recent graduates, In what ways has your mental health affected your college experience, and how can professors better support you? Here’s what they had to say.

Elizabeth Ndungu

Elizabeth Ndungu, graduate student in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University, United States: My mental health has affected me deeply, and I have sought therapy (which is a big thing for me, as I was born and raised in Africa and therapy is a “Western” concept). I’m a caregiver, so unexpected medical emergencies happen a lot, which mentally stresses me out. However, my professors have given me the time I need to perform my best. They’ve listened.

In general, I think professors can better support students by

Observing and reaching out to students if they notice a pattern of behavior.

Being kind. Giving a student a second chance may very well change their life for the better.

Being supportive. Remember students’ names, learn one unique thing about them that’s positive, or connect with them on LinkedIn or other social media platforms and show them that they have a mentor.

I think schools can better support students by

Admitting diverse students. Don’t just say it—do it. Seek out ways to make the school population more DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility) friendly, especially at historically white colleges. Inclusivity should be everywhere.

Making DEIA initiatives a priority. If you are educating organizations’ next leaders, make sure DEIA initiatives are in each program and cohort. Each of our classes should be tied to knowledge, strategy, and DEIA and its impact.

Raising awareness around mental health. Provide onsite and remote resources for mental assistance, automate low complexity tasks that will cause stress to students, invest in your staff and resources, and ensure that they are happy. Because dealing with unhappy staff will make unhappy students.

Pritish Dakhole

Pritish Dakhole, sophomore studying engineering at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India: Mental health is still stigmatized in India. We do not have easy access to therapy sessions, and it is a difficult topic to talk about with family. Thankfully, the scenario is changing.

I have been affected both positively and negatively by my mental health. Positively, because I have become more open-minded and perceptive. Negatively, because it has drained my will to continue, made me tired from all the overthinking, and made me turn to harmful addictions to distract myself from the pain.

Professors and schools could provide better support through

Webinars and meetings that make students aware of the issues they face and how to tackle them.

Group sessions—preferably anonymous—to remove fear.

Feedback systems so that the college is made aware of the problems that lead to a bad mental state.

Flexible education systems that allow students to take breaks during periods of excessive burnout.

Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan

Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan, Class of ’21, studied computer science and business administration at the University of Southern California, United States: In February 2021, I called 911 twice in the span of two weeks. I thought I was dying. I felt confused, felt like my body was about to give way, then I called the paramedics. They hooked me up to an EKG and checked my pulse. It was the first time in my life that I experienced panic attacks.

I don’t think anything else could have been done at the classroom level besides extending deadlines in extenuating circumstances. That’s the unfortunate nature of post-education institutions—you still need to make it “fair” for all students.

Alberto Briones

Alberto Briones, Class of ’22, studied operations and information management at Northern Illinois University, United States: Mental health can be a touchy subject. I have experienced depression and anxiety, but just thinking about all the things I could miss in life if I gave up is what gave me the strength to keep going.

Something professors can do to support students’ mental health is give students time to study between tests. Sometimes professors schedule tests on the same day, and suddenly students must study for three or four exams, all in the same day. It becomes overwhelming and they have to prioritize what tests they need to study more for.

Anjali Bathra Ravikumar

Anjali Bathra Ravikumar, sophomore studying management information systems at The University of Texas at Austin, United States: It is stressful to be an international student at a competitive university in a competitive major. I often find myself having breakdowns and calling my parents in a panic about my future. The relatively restricted job opportunities because of my visa status and uncertainty about whether I’ll be able to forge the career that I want are major reasons behind this.

I have noticed that a lot of my international-student friends are constantly hustling as well, since we feel that we always need to be 10 steps ahead and cannot afford to slow down.

The best thing that a professor can do for me is provide as much guidance as possible in their respective field. Most of my professors have done that. This helps weed out some of the doubts that I have about potential career paths and gives me better clarity about the future. I feel that I cannot ask for more since I don’t expect everyone to be informed of what life is like for an international student.

Schools, on the other hand, can do a lot for us, such as tailor career management resources, offer international student group counseling (I attended one session and it was very liberating), provide financial relief (this is the absolute best thing that can be done for us) during rough times such as COVID-19. For example, when millions of international students had to take online classes during the pandemic, schools could have offered reduced tuition rates.

Something else that can seem small but goes a long way is using inclusive language in university announcements and communication. Most of the emails that we receive from the university feel more tailored to or are directly addressing in-state students (especially when major changes were happening at the beginning of the pandemic), and it is natural for us to feel left out. It might be a simple thing, but a couple of lines at the end of each email announcement with links addressing our specific concerns would make a lot of difference to us since we wouldn’t have to do our own research to figure out what it means for us.


Starting a mental health conversation with students before we are prepared can be harmful. Here’s some advice from “ It’s Time We Talk About Mental Health in Business Classrooms ” by Bahia El Oddi, founder of Human Sustainability Inside Out, and Carin-Isabel Knoop, executive director of the Case Research and Writing Group at Harvard Business School, on how to get ready for these critical conversations.

Learn to talk about mental health. Enhance your mental health literacy through free resources such as the Learn Mental Health Literacy course (specifically for educators), the World Health Organization , and the National Institute of Mental Health . Consult the CDC for language about mental and behavioral health and the American Psychiatry Association for ways to describe individuals presenting with potential mental health disorders .

Reflect on your own biases. Consider how your own story—being raised by a parent with a mental health disorder, for example—may influence how you react and relate to others. Determine your level of openness to discussing the struggles you or your loved ones face or have faced. While it is possible to discuss mental health in the classroom without these anecdotes or personal connections, the courage to be open about your own past can have a transformative effect on classroom discussion.

Understand students may need extra support. Make yourself accessible and approachable to your students from the start so you can establish trust early. Advise them to seek professional help when necessary.

Nick Neral

Nick Neral, Class of ’18, studied marketing management at the University of Akron, United States: At the end of my first year of college, I decided to stop participating in Division I athletics and my mental health plummeted. After calling our campus counseling center and waiting six weeks for my first intake appointment, I was told I couldn’t start therapy for two more months, but I could get medication within a couple of days.

After getting prescriptions for an SSRI and Xanax, I never heard from another clinician at my school again. They had no clue if I got the meds, if I took them, how I was doing, and whether I was on campus every day.

When my mental health was at its poorest, I was very disconnected from my classes. I went to, I think, five or six out of 30 finance classes I had during the semester.

I think professors are in this mindset that 20 percent of the class will naturally excel, a majority will do well enough, and a small chunk probably can’t be saved. Sometimes we don’t need saving in the classroom, we just need professors looking out for our well-being. There’s more to the story when a kid doesn’t show up to 80 percent of their classes.

My experience—and seeing others go through similar events—led me to create a platform where therapists can create content and free resources at . Anyone can filter through the content based on how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their life without paying anything or creating an account.

Shreyas Gavit

Shreyas Gavit, Class of ’20 in the MBA program at Oakland University, United States: Mental health has affected me because I’ve been depressed and feel trapped; I can’t just go to my home country and come back to the United States whenever I need to. Instead, I have to wait on visa dates, which are a total mess.

Schools and professors could provide more guidance in understanding how immigration has been affected due to COVID-19.

Nigel Hammett

Nigel Hammett, Class of ’19, studied industrial and systems engineering at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, United States: Throughout college I faced mental stress—not only from school, like everyone, but also from many constant family issues going on back home that required my energy. At times, I learned how to push through my feelings and submerge myself in my schoolwork, although I should have unpacked my trauma and handled it in a more mature way.

Students need an environment that encourages inclusive, candid dialogue around how we are feeling. There’s a correlation between social and mental health to overall success in our respective careers.

Alek Nybro

Alek Nybro, Class of ’21, studied marketing at St. Edward’s University, United States: Anxiety shows up differently for every person. I consider myself to be high functioning. This means when the going gets tough, I dig down and keep pushing, but often to extents that aren’t physically, emotionally, or mentally healthy.

In school, I didn’t know when to step back and take a break. That’s probably my biggest regret about my college years.

Professors could help students by making everything iterative. There shouldn’t be a final grade for assignments or projects. If you want to go back and revise something for a better grade, you should be able to do so.

Patrick Mandiraatmadja

Patrick Mandiraatmadja, first-year graduate student studying technology management at Columbia University, United States: There are times when I have felt overwhelmed by the number of deadlines and exams crammed into a specific week or few days. I always want to put in my best effort to study, which can lead to less sleep and more anxiety. Then college becomes more about getting through assignments and exams just for the sake of it and less about the learning.

Because of the amount of work or busy work, I have less opportunity to go out and do the things that make me feel alive and excited about life—whether it’s being with friends, exploring my city, exercising, involving myself with professional and social networks outside of school, or simply taking a walk and enjoying my day.

Students want to know that our professors and schools care. Part of that is providing an environment where we can talk about our personal struggles. I also think professors and schools should update the policies on homework, assignments, and exams. Sometimes we may push through and neglect our mental health, not taking the time to care for ourselves, just to get through that homework or finish that exam. The added pressure causes us increased anxiety; it’s no wonder today’s young people are some of the most anxious and unmotivated compared to previous generations.

What We Learned from These Students

These students and young alumni offer an honest glimpse into how mental health struggles have affected their college experiences. Although every student faces their own unique—and sometimes complicated—challenges, we are learning that sometimes the best response is the simplest one.

We must show our students that we care. So lend an empathetic ear, offer that deadline extension, and turn your classroom into a safe haven for open discussion. Your students need it.

Special thanks to Justin Nguyen , founder of Declassified Media , for connecting HBP to these students and young alumni who volunteered to share their experiences.

Help shape our coverage: These students spoke candidly; now it’s your turn. What are the biggest challenges you face in addressing student mental health in and out of the classroom? What experiences have stood out to you? Let us know .

Elizabeth Ndungu is a graduate student in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University.

Pritish Dakhole is a sophomore studying engineering at Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India.

Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan is a member of the University of Southern California’s Class of ’21.

Alberto Briones is a member of Northern Illinois University’s Class of ’22.

Anjali Bathra Ravikumar is a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin.

Nick Neral studied marketing management at the University of Akron and is a member of the Class of ’18.

Shreyas Gavit studied in the MBA program at Oakland University and graduated as a member of the Class of ’20.

Nigel Hammett studied industrial and systems engineering at North Carolina A&T State University and graduated as a member of Class of ’19.

Alek Nybro studied marketing at St. Edward’s University and graduated as a member of the Class of ’21.

Patrick Mandiraatmadja is a first-year graduate student studying technology management at Columbia University.

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The mental health crisis on campus and how colleges can fix it

how to solve mental health issues of students

Associate Professor, Florida State University

Disclosure statement

Marty Swanbrow Becker, Ph.D. received past funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. He is affiliated with the American Psychological Association.

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how to solve mental health issues of students

When college students seek help for a mental health issue on campus – something they are doing more often – the place they usually go is the college counseling center.

But while the stigma of seeking mental health support has gone down , it has created a new problem: College counseling centers are now struggling to meet the increased demand.

As a researcher who examines problems faced by college students in distress , I see a way to better support students’ mental health. In addition to offering individual counseling, colleges should also focus on what we in the mental health field refer to as population health and prevention .

These efforts can range from creating more shared spaces to increase social connections to stave off feelings of isolation, to reducing things on campus that threaten student well-being, such as discrimination and violence.

What’s behind the problem

Student mental health distress has escalated to high levels nationally. The American College Health Association found in 2019 that over the past year, 87% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, 66% felt overwhelming anxiety, 56% felt things were hopeless and 13% seriously considered suicide. Contributing factors include distressing and traumatic circumstances during college, such as assaults, in addition to academic performance demands .

The college experience is not the only factor, however. Students are also coming to college with preexisting mental health challenges. For instance, over 80% of students who think about suicide during college had first thought about suicide before college .

Some college campuses may add counseling staff to try to meet the increased demand for counseling centers, but not all campuses can afford to do this. Even if they do, it still might not be enough. Students need alternate ways beyond college counseling centers to address their mental health needs.

By being more proactive and equipping students to deal with mental health issues before they become too large to manage, fewer students will need crisis services – and those that need them will be able to get them sooner – because more students will have the tools to work through their problems earlier on their own.

To improve the overall health of their population of students, here are four areas where I think colleges should focus.

1. Empower students

Colleges must help students assess their strengths and overall resilience. By empowering students with increased self-knowledge, they can more adeptly identify problems early and access supportive resources. Campuses could help motivate and encourage students to monitor their progress through creating an online portal where students can access tools, such as those promoting skill development in the areas of mindfulness, time management and career reflection. There’s such an online portal – known as the Student Resilience Project – at the university where I teach, and results are promising .

2. Provide stress-management resources

Colleges and universities should create processes and tools for students to improve their ability to manage stress. For example, the campus could create a decision tree that helps students identify when and where to reach out to get help with their specific concerns. A web-based portal can tell students where to locate campus-based support services, such as coaches, advisers and counselors, or peer-to-peer education and support and skill-building groups. For an example of a program designed to increase social support in high schools and one that could work for colleges, see the Sources of Strength program.

3. Take preventive measures

Research shows that helping many people lower their risk improves the benefit for the larger population more than focusing on those at the highest risk.

This suggests that colleges should look at the factors that are contributing to stress – such as substance use, discrimination, assaults and the pressure around figuring out one’s major and career – and then work to reduce their influence. Promoting resources for early intervention in these areas can help students cope with stress and build time management skills.

4. Launch wellness campaigns

Colleges should create a wellness campaign. Students, faculty and staff should be trained in how to work together to improve the mental health of everyone on campus, including identifying others in distress, intervening with them and referring them to help. The campus should advertise their vision and initiatives to get the message out to all members of the community. These wellness campaigns are aspirational at the moment, but I am currently working with several colleges to make these campaigns a reality.

When colleges shift their focus to population health and prevention, in my view it should lead to an improvement in the health and well-being of students and free up counseling centers to treat the students most in need of mental health support.

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How colleges today are supporting student mental health, colleges and universities are addressing well-being in students with new and innovative approaches..

“Why are we ignoring our college students?” a frustrated colleague asked me last week. With so much focus on social-emotional learning, trauma-sensitive classrooms, and student well-being in K-12 schools, my friend argued passionately that young adults need our attention, too.

The challenge is clear. In 2018, researchers who surveyed almost 14,000 first-year college students (in eight countries) found that 35 percent struggled with a mental illness, particularly depression or anxiety. Here in the U.S., college students seeking mental health services report that anxiety is their #1 concern—and it is on the rise.

With demands for mental health support typically exceeding resources, how are colleges and universities addressing student well-being both inside and outside of the classroom? The emerging programs, new online resources, and innovative approaches to classroom teaching described below may encourage and inspire you—whether you’re an educator, staff member, or administrator who wants to prioritize student well-being at your school, or a concerned parent with a child heading off to college.

Increased awareness from the start

how to solve mental health issues of students

Colleges provide orientation sessions on drug and alcohol use, sexual violence prevention, and other student health and lifestyle topics, so why not address mental health more directly? Many colleges are beginning to proactively share mental health information with students during face-to-face orientation sessions .

Approaches vary from traditional presentations and panel discussions, to role plays, short videos , and student testimonials followed by small group discussions. Here, students learn how to recognize mental illness symptoms, where to find resources and support, and how to talk to friends who might be struggling.

At Northwestern University, student feedback led orientation organizers to shift their focus from expert speakers to student testimonials. This past fall, student actors read the narratives of alumni describing their mental health challenges and how they sought help.

Storytelling likely resonated more with the student audience because they could relate more personally to the details shared. And with the onslaught of information students receive at the start of college, it’s crucial to present mental health information in a way that is relevant and memorable. This approach may also help struggling students to feel less isolated.

Because the stigma associated with mental illness continues, stories and open conversations that normalize mental health concerns are critical.

Free mental health screenings

Another way to counter the stigma is to encourage students to monitor their mental health the same way they monitor their physical health. To that end, some universities are normalizing mental health checkups by offering free, readily accessible screenings for their students.

For example, Drexel University’s Recreation Center has a mental-health kiosk where students can “get a checkup from the neck up.” Students can stop by for a couple of minutes to answer a quick series of questions on a private screen. At the end of the screening, students receive information regarding additional mental health resources and supports, as needed.

Currently, UCLA offers a more formalized screening option. As part of an interdisciplinary research project to solve major global health problems , researchers there are conducting massive online screenings to measure anxiety and depression in 100,000 students, staff, and faculty.

This four-year study, the  UCLA Depression Grand Challenge , features a 15-minute online assessment where participants learn whether they might have mild to severe anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. As appropriate, they can receive mental health treatment, including counseling services, a referral to receive trained peer support, or the option to participate in an interactive online program called This Way Up . In addition, researchers monitor participants throughout the four years.

Campus-wide courses, programs, and initiatives

Programs like This Way Up , designed by Professor Gavin Andrews and his team at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney (affiliated with the University of New South Wales), help students to better understand the emotions they are experiencing (e.g., fear, anxiety, stress, sadness), connect with a clinician who can supervise their progress, and take free self-help courses online (like “Coping with Stress,” “Intro to Mindfulness,” or “Managing Insomnia”).

GGSC Summer Institute for Educators

GGSC Summer Institute for Educators

A six-day workshop to transform teachers' understanding of themselves and their students

As universities are also noting a decline in student resilience —the ability to bounce back from negative experiences—Florida State University recently launched an online trauma resilience training tool developed through the Institute of Family Violence Studies and their College of Social Work. The Student Resilience Project developers recognized that many students coming to their university have experienced “significant family and community stress” and that stress can affect their learning. Florida State University now requires all incoming freshmen and transfer students to participate in the training, which features videos, animations, and TED-talk-style informational sessions to foster student strengths and coping strategies.

Other programs in the U.S. take a more preventive approach to mental health challenges by promoting student resilience throughout the school year. Stanford’s Resilience Project features personal storytelling as well as academic skills coaching. In a range of online video clips , many students and alumni describe the intense self-doubt they experienced when they arrived on campus. One alum admitted, “I really remember thinking, ‘I don’t belong here. I shouldn’t be here’—like I was an admissions mistake,” while another confessed, “I was not used to working really hard and not being successful.” 

Sharing stories of perseverance, they ultimately reveal some of the insights they learned along the way—like “Your career is not a grade that you got on a piece of paper” and “Our life is a draft. It’s constantly in revision.” To celebrate learning from mistakes, students also creatively share “epic failures” through comedy, poetry, videos, and songs in a yearly event called “Stanford, I Screwed Up.”

In light of the shortage of mental health providers on campuses, online resources and programmatic events like these seem to fill a crucial need. However, many students still prefer face-to-face support.

To provide that, the University of Wisconsin—Superior opened The Pruitt Center for Mindfulness and Well-Being in August 2018, with a mission to promote mindfulness and well-being among students, faculty and staff, and the surrounding community. A few of their campus-wide offerings include mindfulness workshops for new faculty and resident assistants; weekly yoga and mindfulness classes for students, faculty, and staff; and a curated collection of mindfulness and well-being resources at their university library.

Talking about it

Despite all the resources available, students aren’t necessarily verbalizing their own mental health struggles—and many don’t know exactly how to help peers who appear to be lonely, sad, or distant. How do we start the conversation?

At least 350 colleges now utilize an online simulation program called Kognito that helps students learn how to talk to friends who may be suffering emotionally, directing them to appropriate resources. When students enter Kognito’s virtual campus, they learn more about mental health from a handful of virtual students, and they talk with a virtual student in distress. After trying out several different approaches, they learn the most effective ways to respond to their virtual peer.

Texting for support is another option. The University of Sioux Falls is one of the first South Dakota colleges to offer a free texting hotline for their students. The nonprofit Text4Hope aims to provide college students with options if they are worried about a particular friend, overwhelmed by academic stress themselves, or feeling lonely, depressed, or suicidal. Trained members of the Helpline Center are ready to respond to texts 24/7. They also invite students to check out their Instagram feed at #sdhopenotes, featuring notes of encouragement that students leave around colleges and universities throughout the state (e.g., “Be true to you!,” “Go girl!,” “Life is not a solo act. People love you!,” “I survived because someone listened…even through texting”).

On a much larger scale, Active Minds is a national organization dedicated to mental health advocacy that currently hosts more than 450 campus chapters. Alison Malmon founded the organization in 2003 as a result of her brother Brian’s suicide. “After my brother’s death, and knowing how preventable it was, I resolved—no matter what—to do something to change the way we approach mental health in this country,” she says. Malmon wants other students to understand that they don’t need to feel ashamed if they are experiencing anxiety and depression—and that seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

In a 2018 study of Active Minds, researchers surveyed 1,129 students at 12 universities in California three times during the school year to assess their involvement with the Active Minds organization and their resulting attitudes and knowledge about mental health. Students with low to moderate engagement with Active Minds at the start of the school year reported an increase in mental health awareness and a decrease in negative, stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness by the end of the year. Most importantly, they claimed that they were more likely to help another student in crisis (e.g., by providing emotional support or connecting them with services) after involvement in student-run events through Active Minds. 

With a Speaker’s Bureau sharing personal stories of hope, a “ Send Silence Packing ” traveling exhibit to increase awareness and prevent suicide, as well as peer-run mental health clubs and support networks, Active Minds is opening up the conversation around mental health and leveraging the power of peer-to-peer outreach to change campus culture.

Well-being practices woven into coursework

Apart from supporting peer-led efforts and other campus initiatives, college instructors and professors can encourage student well-being by directly modeling preventive strategies and coping skills in class. If you are a professor, however, you may wonder how you could possibly squeeze another learning objective into your syllabus.

Mindful Breathing

Mindful Breathing

A way to build resilience to stress, anxiety, and anger

Try carving out a few minutes at the start of each class. Open by playing a brief guided mindfulness practice like this five-minute mindful breathing exercise from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. Or, if you’re comfortable, simply lead and model the practice yourself.

In my own teacher education courses at Seattle University, I began each day with a “mindful moment” where students reoriented themselves to our classroom space. During this “nervous system reboot,” students maintained a straight yet relaxed posture and anchored their attention on a sound, a body part, or their own breath. Their only instruction was to gently redirect their attention to that anchor each time their mind wandered.

To supplement each opening practice, I also shared a relevant research study, additional stress management strategies, or wellness programs that students could explore after class, which only required about five minutes of class time. After a couple of months of practice, students across our teacher education program started asking for the “mindful moment” in all of their classes.

You may be interested in a more comprehensive approach to addressing student well-being in your courses, but remain hesitant to use a lot of class time. If so, consider a social-emotional learning (SEL) project recently piloted by faculty at the University of Wisconsin—Superior and Thiel College in Pennsylvania. Shevaun Stocker and Kristel Gallagher’s “SuccEssfuL (SEL) in Stats” program can be easily adapted for any course.

It features 15 short weekly activities for students to complete outside of class (apart from an initial activity for the first class day). Students can walk through activities in the curriculum guide with easy-to-follow sections, including “Why is it important for me to do this [exercise]?,” “Why does it work?,” “What do I have to do?,” “What do I need to submit?,” and “What if I want to know more?”

Stocker and Gallagher adapted most of the exercises from the GGSC’s Greater Good in Action website, including the Self-Compassionate Letter (to practice encouraging and being kind to yourself), Use Your Strengths (to draw on your skills in creative ways), Finding Silver Linings (to change your perspective on a negative event), and Best Possible Self (to foster optimism as you imagine your future).

In a small pilot study of the “SuccEssfuL (SEL) in Stats” program, students in statistics courses at two universities reported a decrease in math anxiety. By the end of the course, they also described a change in the way they perceived their stress—more as a challenge rather than a threat to their well-being.

The mental health struggles our students face may feel daunting at times, but there are so many opportunities to pitch in and offer our support. We can play a role as mental health advocates by talking more openly about mental health symptoms, sharing available resources, regularly modeling practices that enhance daily well-being, and actively participating in campus-wide advocacy efforts. 
As many of these programs encourage honest and supportive conversations about mental health, let’s do our best to be available and pay attention. When young adults do open up and share, we need to do all we can to listen.

About the Author


Amy L. Eva, Ph.D. , is the associate education director at the Greater Good Science Center. As an educational psychologist and teacher educator with over 25 years in classrooms, she currently writes, presents, and leads online courses focused on student and educator well-being, mindfulness, and courage. Her new book, Surviving Teacher Burnout: A Weekly Guide To Build Resilience, Deal with Emotional Exhaustion, and Stay Inspired in the Classroom, features 52 simple, low-lift strategies for enhancing educators’ social and emotional well-being.

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College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations

Paola pedrelli.

Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Albert Yeung

Courtney zulauf, timothy wilens.

Attending college can be a stressful time for many students. In addition to coping with academic pressure, some students have to deal with the stressful tasks of separation and individuation from their family of origin while some may have to attend to numerous work and family responsibilities. In this context, many college students experience the first onset of mental health and substance use problems or an exacerbation of their symptoms. Given the uniqueness of college students, there is a need to outline critical issues to consider when working with this population. In this commentary, first, the prevalence of psychiatric and substance use problems in college students and the significance of assessing age of onset of current psychopathology are described. Then, the concerning persistent nature of mental health problems among college students and its implications are summarized. Finally, important aspects of treatment to consider when treating college students with mental health problems are outlined, such as the importance of including parents in the treatment, communicating with other providers, and employing of technology to increase adherence. It is concluded that, by becoming familiar with the unique problems characteristic of the developmental stage and environment college students are in, practitioners will be able to better serve them.

Mental health problems are very common among college students [ 1 ]. This may be due to the fact that attending college corresponds to a challenging time for many traditional and non-traditional undergraduate students. Traditional college students start college after completing high school, are typically younger, depend on parents for financial support, and do not work or work part-time [ 2 ]. Thus, in addition to stress related to academic load, these students may have to face the task of taking on more adult-like responsibilities without having yet mastered the skills and cognitive maturity of adulthood. For example, many traditional college students may face potentially stressful experiences for the first time including working, being in a significant relationship that may lead to marriage, or having housemates with cultures and belief systems different from their own [ 3 ]. Non-traditional college students are often employed full-time, older, and may have dependents other than their spouses [ 3 ]. Thus, this group of students may have to cope with meeting work and family demands in addition to academic requirements. In these contexts, many college students may experience the persistence, exacerbation, or first onset of mental health and substance use problems while possibly receiving no or inadequate treatment. With the increasing recognition of child mental health issues and the use of more psychotropic medications, the number of young adults with mental health problems entering college has significantly increased. For example, in a survey of 274 institutions, 88 % of counseling center directors reported an increase in “severe” psychological problems over the previous 5 years including learning disabilities, self-injury incidents, eating disorders, substance use, and sexual assaults [ 4 ]. Thus, there is an increase in demand for counseling and specialized services. However, the increase in demands has not always corresponded to an increase in staff [ 4 ]. In particular, counseling centers are in need of psychiatrists with expertise in treating traditional as well as non-traditional college students, two groups with specific age-related characteristics and challenges. In this commentary, the prevalence of psychiatric and substance use problems in college students, as well as their common onset, will be described. Next, the worrisome persistent nature of mental health problems among college students and its implication will be discussed. Finally, important treatment considerations for traditional and non-traditional college students will be outlined.

Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders

Most mental health disorders have their peak onset during young adulthood. Kessler et al. [ 5 ] observed that by the age of 25 years, 75% of those who will have a mental health disorder have had their first onset. Among traditional students, the significant disruptions associated with attending college may exacerbate current psychopathology that first manifested in childhood and/or trigger its first onset. Similarly, non-traditional students who may have to attend to the demands of their numerous roles (work and family) may experience an exacerbation of their symptoms or a relapse.

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent psychiatric problems among college students, with approximately 11.9 % of college students suffering from an anxiety disorder [ 1 ]. Among the anxiety disorders, social phobia has an early age of onset (median age of onset between 7–14 years), while panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorders (GAD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have somewhat later onsets [ 6 ]. Giaconia et al. [ 7 ] found that in a community sample of adolescents the peak risk period for developing PTSD was between the ages of 16 to 17 years, with approximately one third of the sample developing the disorder by the age of 14 years [ 7 ]. Through a national mental health survey, Vaingankar et al. [ 8 ] examined 6,616 respondents and reported that the mean age of onset for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was 19 years of age and 20 years of age for GAD. Thus, many traditional students with PTSD may have experienced symptoms before college, whereas those with GAD and OCD may start experiencing symptoms while in college.

Another common mental health problem among college students is depression, with prevalence rates in college students of 7 to 9 % [ 1 , 9 ]. Zisook et al. [ 10 ] found that over half of all cases of depression had a first onset during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. Similarly, others have shown an elevated risk for mood disorders beginning in the early teens increasing with age in a linear fashion. In the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication study, Kessler et al. [ 6 ] reported that one out of every five individuals with depression had their first episode by the age of 25 years. The onset of bipolar disorder (BAD) appears to follow a similar trend. Approximately 3.2 % of college students meet the criteria for BAD [ 1 ]. An emerging literature has shown that the majority of adults with BAD have the onset of their disorder in child and adolescent years, with at least a third of adults with BAD having their onset before the age of 12 years [ 11 ].

Suicide, although not a specific diagnosis, is the third leading cause of death among young adults and is a significant problem among college students [ 12 ]. A large survey reported that among 8,155 students, 6.7 % reported suicidal ideation, 1.6 % reported having a suicide plan, and 0.5 % reported making a suicide attempt in the past year [ 13 ]. Given that many students with suicidal ideation do not seek treatment, it is critical to implement screening strategies to identify them and engage them in treatment [ 14 , 15 ]. Among the major risk factors for suicide in this age group are depression [ 16 ], hopelessness [ 17 , 18 ], and substance use [ 19 , 20 ].

Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating are common and often have their onset during adolescence with a rapid increase in risk during early adulthood [ 21 ]. For instance, a survey of 2,822 college students reported that 9.5% of students screened positive for an eating disorder with a greater proportion of females relative to males (13.5 vs. 3.6 %, respectively) [ 22 ]. Stice et al. [ 23 ] found that peak periods of risk for onset was between 17 and 18 years of age for bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, and was between 18 and 20 years for purging behavior (feeding or eating disorder not elsewhere classified). They also found that sub-threshold eating disorders are even more common than full criteria-eating disorders, with both full and subthreshold disorders associated with significant impairment [ 23 ].

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) onsets during childhood and persists into adulthood in approximately one half of cases and negatively affects many critical areas in young adults. Between 2 and 8 % of college students suffer from ADHD and approximately one fourth of students receiving disability services have ADHD [ 24 ]. ADHD is associated with poor academic performance [ 25 ], social difficulties, and an increased risk for alcohol and drug use [ 26 ] that further exacerbate difficulties in college.

There is a paucity of literature regarding the prevalence of schizophrenia among college students; however, it appears that symptoms in the psychotic spectrum are not uncommon among college students. Studies have described the course of schizophrenia as having its beginning in early adolescence and persisting into young adulthood. Sham et al. [ 27 ] studied 270 schizophrenic probands in an older Swedish study and found that for both males and females there was a rapid increase in the onset of schizophrenia in late teens and early twenties followed by a lower risk of onset in the late twenties. Similar results were found by Hafner et al. [ 28 ], who studied 267 patients with schizophrenia and found that the initial onset of the disorder showed an early and steep increase in young adulthood until the age of 25 years. Furthermore, they found that 47% of females and 62% of males in the sample had their first symptoms of schizophrenia before the age of 25 years. Thus, young adults in college may experience the prodromal or early manifestation of a first onset of a psychotic disorder.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) include a group of related complex and chronic neurodevelopment disorders, which are generally characterized by a variable presentation of problems with socialization, communication, and behavior [ 29 ]. Although ASDs are typically considered very disabling, a number of young people with ASDs do not have co-occurring intellectual impairment or language speech impairment (i.e., high functioning autism spectrum disorder and Asperger's disorder) and are able to attend college. Interestingly, a sample of 667 college students at a single university was used to diagnostically and dimensionally assess the rate of high functioning ASD in college populations. The study found that depending upon the ascertainment method between 0.7 and 1.9 % of college students could meet the criteria for high-functioning ASD [ 30 ]. Although the severity of ASD may decline during the adult period, individuals continue to have poor social functioning and often continue to require services [ 31 – 34 ]. Thus, to enable people with ASD to succeed in college, providers should ensure that specific accommodations regarding academics, independent living, and social and vocational counseling are implemented [ 35 ].

Substance Use Among Young Adults in College

The use of alcohol and illicit drugs peaks during young adulthood and slowly declines with age [ 36 ]. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most prevalent problem among college students is the presence of substance use disorders. Approximately one in five college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the previous year (12.5 % alcohol dependence and 7.8 % alcohol abuse) [ 37 ]. Another hazardous behavior common among college students is binge drinking, defined as consuming four standard drinks for women and five for men in a 2-h period [ 38 ]. Nearly half (44 %) of college students binge drink, and one in five engages in this behavior frequently [ 39 , 40 ]. Binge drinking is considered the number one public health hazard and the primary source of preventable morbidity and mortality for college students in the USA. Among college students, alcohol consumption is associated with motor vehicle accidents, another leading cause of death in this age group [ 41 ], accidental injuries, unsafe sex, sexual assaults, and poor classroom performance, as well as impairments in prefrontal cortex functions such as memory and attention [ 39 , 40 , 42 , 43 ]. Furthermore, many college students who are heavy drinkers continue to exhibit substance use-related problems after college [ 44 , 45 ] and later develop an AUD [ 46 ]. Nicotine use is also very common, with 22–40 % of adolescent and young adult smokers meeting the criteria for dependence [ 47 – 49 ]. Drug use disorders are less common, with approximately 1 in 20 students meeting the criteria (4.2 % drug abuse and 1.4 % drug dependence) [ 1 ]. Marijuana use is very prevalent in this population. A study by Suerken et al. [ 50 ] found that 30 % of those entering college admitted to using marijuana before college entry. Furthermore, according to the most recent 2012 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [ 36 ], approximately 23.5 % of male full-time college students and 16.1 % of female full-time college students are current marijuana users. Cannabis use has been shown to negatively influence cognitive performance, memory, and achievement motivation, all of which can deleteriously impact educational achievement and lead to higher risk of school dropout, lower occupational attainment, and workforce failure [ 51 – 53 ]. Among college students, binge drinking and cannabis use often co-occur. College students who drink heavily are approximately ten times more likely to use marijuana than those that are light drinkers [ 54 ]. Data from the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey shows that binge drinking students are nine times more likely to report lifetime use of marijuana than their non-binge drinking peers [ 55 ]. The increased risk for using illicit substances among binge drinkers has serious implications, given that alcohol use in combination with drug use is known to increase substance-related negative consequences [ 56 ], even when controlling for level of drinking [ 57 ].

In addition to substance use and hazardous alcohol use, college students often engage in non-medical use (or misuse) of prescription medications, namely taking prescription medications without a prescription or taking more than prescribed. Although in the past 2 years, the rates of non-medical use of pain relievers among young adults have decreased, they continue to be high [ 58 ]. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately one in ten young adults reported non-medical use of pain relievers in the past year [ 59 ]. Data suggest that the most commonly misused medications among college students include opioids, benzodiazepines (sedative/hypnotics), and amphetamine/methylphenidates (stimulants), with 5–35 % of college students having misused stimulants [ 60 ]. In a nationwide representative sample of 10,904 college students, McCabe et al. [ 61 ] found that the rates of non-medical use of prescription stimulants were highest among Caucasians, males, members of fraternities and sororities, and those who have lower grade point averages. In a study by Garnier-Dykstra et al. [ 62 ], assessing 1,253 college students, they found that by year four 61.8 % of students were offered prescription stimulants at least once and approximately one third had used them non-medically. They found that subjects endorsed friends as the most common source of prescription stimulants and the most common reason for use was to study [ 62 ]. Of concern is that over the past 20 years the rates of overdoses involving prescription drugs in the USA have reached epidemic proportions, with increased risk of overdosing for those using opioid analgesics or benzodiazepines and who have multiple prescriptions [ 63 ]. Nonmedical use of prescription medications often co-occur with heavy alcohol use [ 64 ], a worrisome occurrence given that alcohol taken in combination with analgesic opioids may further inhibit activity in the central nervous system, increasing the risk of oversedation, respiratory depression, and death. Regrettably, college students do not appear to view prescription drug abuse as problematic [ 64 ]. Practitioners should communicate with college students about the ethical, medical, psychological, addictive, and legal issues of prescription drug abuse. College students should be advised to take their medications as prescribed and not give or sell their medications to others. Safe storage of controlled substances such as benzodiazepines or stimulants is important.

Implications of Age of Onset on Trajectory of Psychopathology

When assessing college students, it is critical to determine the age of onset of current psychopathology. Specifically, early age of onset of any mental health disorder is associated with poorer outcome and may be associated with a different presentation from that of later onset. For example, several studies have found that early-onset anxiety disorders are associated with greater severity and chronicity than adult-onset [ 65 ]. Childhood onset anxiety appears to increase the likelihood for the development of other subsequent psychiatric comorbidity [ 66 , 67 ]. Early age of onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder is associated with more symptomatology [ 68 ], higher rates of comorbid tic disorders [ 69 ], and higher frequency of tic-like compulsions [ 70 ]. Multiple studies have shown that childhood onset mood disorders are linked to longer episode duration, a higher number of depressive episodes among women, increased suicidality and need for hospitalization, and increased risk for other co-occurring mental health problems in adulthood [ 71 – 73 ]. Similarly, an earlier onset of bipolar disorder is more problematic as it is associated with higher risk for co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders, less lithium responsiveness, more mixed presentations, and increased illness burden [ 74 – 79 ]. Likewise, studies suggest that the onset of schizophrenia before the age of 18 years may correspond to a more chronic form of the disorder [ 80 – 82 ] with studies reporting an overall lower psychosocial functioning and poorer long-term outcome related to early-onset schizophrenia [ 81 , 83 , 84 ]. Finally, among college students, age of first alcohol use is associated with heavier use and worse alcohol-related problems [ 85 ].

In summary, mental health problems are prevalent in college students, with substance use, anxiety, and mood disorders being the most common. Traditional college students are in a transitional age, young adulthood, which is associated with numerous stressors and during which many mental health problems often first occur. Non-traditional college students also face numerous stressors associated with having multiple roles, demands, and financial obligations. College students who have their first onset of mental illness or initiate substance use during childhood or adolescence appear to have a more pernicious trajectory and course of illness. Early identification of college students with mental health problems and thorough assessments are critical in order to provide adequate services and to ensure better outcomes, such as graduation.

Significance of Early Identification of Mental Health Problems and Outreach Strategies

Among college students, mental health problems not only are common, but they often persist for several years. Zivin et al. [ 86 ], through longitudinal data on 763 students, observed that 60 % of those who had a mental health problem at baseline continued to report at least one mental health problem 2 years later. The rate of persistence differed among disorders. For example, eating disorders were reported as most persistent, with 59 % of those reporting an eating disorder at baseline still having it at follow-up. Of the students with depression at baseline, 27 % continued to have it 2 years later. Self-injury behavior and suicidal thoughts also persisted. Approximately 40 % of students continued to report self-injury behavior and 35 % continued to report suicidal thoughts 2 years after baseline [ 86 ].

Lack of identification or acknowledgement (denial) of mental health symptoms and/or lack of or inadequate treatment are common problems among college students and may contribute to the persistence of mental health problems in this population. For instance, in a study by Zivin et al. [ 86 ], less than half of the college students with mental health problems persisting over 2 years received mental health treatment during that time period [ 86 ]. Other studies have also shown that the rates of treatment in college students are very low. For example, in the 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a national survey on adults including 2,188 college students, data showed that only 18 % of students with past year mental health diagnoses had received treatment in the previous year [ 1 ]. Specifically, 34 % of stder, 15 % of students with a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, and only 5 % of those with an alcohol or drug disorder received treatment. Similarly, the Healthy Minds study, a large online survey of college mental health, found that only 36 % of students who screened positive for a mental health problem including depression, panic disorder, GAD, suicidal ideation, or self-injury received treatment in the previous year [ 87 ]. A few reasons have been proposed for the low rates of help seeking in this population including fear of personal stigma, not perceiving treatment as urgent or essential, and lack of time [ 88 , 89 ]. The Healthy Minds study also showed that more women receive treatment than men (39 vs. 30 %) [ 87 ]. It is concerning that even when students receive treatment it appears that often it is inadequate. Eisenberg et al. [ 87 ], on the basis of the Healthy Minds study, outlined that approximately only half of the students with depression received adequate care, defined as receiving 2 months of an antidepressant medication or at least eight sessions of counseling or therapy.

The early identification and treatment of psychopathology and substance use disorders impact the ultimate trajectory and sequelae of the disorder(s). With regard to bipolar disorder, it has been shown that the recurrence of episodes is associated with progressive loss of brain volume, that with the progression of the disease patients respond less to both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy and that early intervention may be neuroprotective [ 90 ]. It has, therefore, been suggested to implement an “energetic broad-based treatment” during the first onset of bipolar disorder to change its trajectory [ 90 ]. Similarly, the Treatment and Intervention in Psychosis (TIPS) project showed that early detection and delivery of standard treatment for psychosis including antipsychotic medication, individual psychosocial treatment, and psychoeducational multifamily groups had positive effects on long-term functional outcome [ 91 ]. Moreover, it was shown that the duration of untreated psychosis has long-term negative effects on the course of the illness [ 91 ]. The presence of psychiatric and substance use problems during college is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes from unemployment, serious social and educational impairment [ 46 , 92 , 93 ], and obesity [ 94 ]. Together these studies underline the importance of prompt and adequate treatment of psychopathology to prevent neurocognitive and functional decline.

The problem of low treatment seeking in college students may be addressed by the use of technology. As noted previously, traditional as well as non-traditional students report that they do not seek help because of limited time or because they worry about what others may think [ 87 , 95 ]. Technology-based programs for screening as well as for treatment would have the advantage of providing anonymity and could be available at any time and may be cost-effective. Escoffery et al. [ 96 ] found that 74 % of the students acknowledged having ever received health information online, and more than 40 % reported that they frequently searched the Internet for health information, suggesting that college students regularly use the Internet as a health resource. Several studies explored the use of Web-based surveys of depression and anxiety to screen for mood problems among college students [ 97 ]. Hass et al. [ 98 ] tested a Web-based method to perform screening for depression and other suicide risk factors, and respondents were provided personalized assessment and online communication with a clinical counselor. They reported that such an approach increased the rate of help-seeking behavior among at-risk students. Our team at the Massachusetts General Hospital Depression Clinical and Research Program showed that the use of emails and social networking sites, such as Facebook, is feasible and cost-effective for reaching out to college students and for depression screening [ 99 ]. Taken together, these studies support using Web-based programs with college students as a strategy to enhance treatment seeking. Moreover, it may be advisable to offer computer-based treatments to students who may be afraid of stigma or have limited time. For example, numerous Internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches are available that have been found effective for treating a range of mental health problems [ 100 – 102 ].

Many students who present at college health centers have mental health problems [ 103 ]. Thus, a collaborative relationship between university health centers and behavioral health services may lead to an increase in identification and referrals for behavioral health treatments of students with mental health problems. A collaborative relationship between university health centers and behavioral health services can be categorized in several ways [ 104 ]. In the integrated model, medical and behavioral health services are delivered in an integrated manner as part of a team program. In this model, the team members have a treatment plan that includes medical as well as behavioral aspects [ 104 ]. Alternatively, medical and behavioral health services can be co-located , and services are coordinated as a result of medical and behavioral health staff sharing resources and being in the same location. Finally, when medical and behavioral health services are delivered at different locations, the services can be coordinated . In this model, information between health centers and behavioral health centers are exchanged in a formalized and established way [ 104 ]. In the last two models, the clinicians delivering medical care and those delivering behavioral health services are not part of the same team. An important aspect of coordination of services is the use of electronic medical records (EMRs). Specifically, the adoption of the use of EMRs may be associated with better care for college students because its use may enhance communication between providers, coordination, measurement, and decision support [ 105 ].

Treatment Considerations

Upon completion of thorough evaluation, evidence-based practice (EBP) interventions should be employed for the treatment of this population. Given that numerous resources are available outlining EBP for mental health problems, this commentary will not review them. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) provides evidence-based recommendations for the assessment and treatment of psychiatric disorders online ( ), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a National Registry of EBP available online as well ( ). The latter also provides links to other resources including the National Guideline Clearinghouse™ (NGC) ( ), which is a comprehensive database of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and related documents maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services. Clinicians may also consult several books, including A Guide To Treatment That Works [ 106 ]. Given that low adherence is a common problem among college students, providers may opt to enhance EBP with Motivational Interviewing (MI) [ 107 ]. MI has been shown to enhance engagement and adherence to psychosocial as well pharmacological treatments [ 108 , 109 ], and thus, it could be useful to address these problems with college students. When treating college students, several issues ought to be considered related to the developmental stage as well as the context college students are in. Some considerations are relevant for the treatment of both traditional and non-traditional students and some are specific to each group. When treating traditional students, it is important to consider that most of them are still dependent on their parents, thus parental involvement in treatment is advisable. Parents could be invited to attend some of the treatment meetings with their children to address problems involving them or to be enlisted as a support source to facilitate improvement. When communicating with parents, it is important to educate them on what to expect during the early stages of symptom abatement and recovery, enhancing their ability to support the college student in coping with the cycles of both partial and full remissions and relapses over time. Allowing feedback and providing access in a proactive, mutually agreeable manner will not only enhance safety, but also facilitate support and treatment of the college student. Moreover, given the negative effect that parents' mental health problems have on children [ 110 , 111 ], providers may consider offering referrals for mental health services to the parents who may need them. Services can be offered to parents even if their offspring are not willing to engage in the treatment. For example, the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) has been shown to help parents facilitate seeking treatment of family members who are substance users [ 112 ]. With regard to prevention interventions, Turrisi et al. [ 113 , 114 ] have developed a parent-based intervention (PIB) that has been shown to be associated with reduction of binge drinking in the children of those who received it. Parents' involvement can be beneficial even when they live away from where the students are currently attending college as they could provide, even if remotely, critical information about the patient's history or they could ensure/facilitate continuity of care during school breaks. While the involvement of the parents can be beneficial, given that most young adults in college are over 18 years of age, the patient's consent is required. When conducting mental health evaluations of young adults in college, providers should routinely discuss the pros and cons of parental involvement and encourage it. Ideally, parents could be involved at a minimum as a resource for information and to ensure continuity of care.

Issues to consider with non-traditional college students relate to the fact that most of them have to juggle academic responsibilities as well as work and/or family commitments and demands. Thus, to ensure that these students receive adequate services, providers should have extended and flexible hours and even child care options. These students may need additional and different types of services than traditional students such as case management to deal with financial, housing, relational, and child rearing issues. Moreover, to address their family needs, they may be more likely to need couple counseling or family therapy.

One important issue to consider for all college students relates to the problem of continuity of care during school breaks. Providers should ensure continuity of care by establishing services during school breaks or by identifying strategies for maintaining mental health during this period. Care for college students may occur in different ways, and college providers must examine each situation carefully to ensure continuity of care. Some students may have a primary provider where they reside with their parents, may be followed remotely, and may need intermittent support while in college. In this case, the college providers should communicate with the provider at home to be aware of whether the student may be at risk for safety and their needs. Vice-versa, some students may have a primary provider at their college and may need a provider for either medication management or psychotherapy during breaks. In this scenario, the college's providers should ensure that the student will continue to receive adequate care while away. Not having insurance coverage may be a barrier to continuity of care. However, with the new healthcare reform, allowing US patients up to 26 years to be covered by their parent's insurance, college students may be able to have more options for care during breaks. In addition to ensuring continuous care, college providers may have to pay special attention to students whose needs cannot be addressed by the services provided on campus. Therefore, health centers or counseling centers should develop an extensive referral system easily accessible to their students with severe mental illness or in need of higher level of care. Lastly, some students may receive services from providers at their college as well as from outside their institution; therefore, it is critical that all providers coordinate care.

In this commentary, we aimed at illustrating critical issues to consider when treating college students with mental health problems. This commentary did not aim to be exhaustive and it includes a selected number of references. Therefore, the conclusions drawn are not the results of a systematic assessment. Moreover, our illustration refers to issues typical of undergraduate students, and we have not discussed problems present among graduate or medical students. The latter differ from undergraduate students in a number of important ways including academic responsibilities, campus life, and relationships with academic advisors. These limitations withstanding, we believe that mental health providers working in college campuses should enhance their training and knowledge by becoming familiar with the topics reviewed here.

In summary, mental health problems are common among college students. Academic pressure together with stressors typical of starting and attending college may precipitate the first onset of mental health and substance use problems or an exacerbation of symptoms. Often the nature of psychopathology is chronic due to low rate of treatment seeking and low adherence to treatment. Thus, it is critical to employ outreach programs and implement strategies to ensure treatment retention. Given that many traditional students continue to depend on their family while in college, parental involvement in treatment is important. Finally, given the effect that the academic calendar may have on continuity of care, it is critical for clinicians to ensure that college students receive treatment throughout the year and to coordinate with other clinicians that may be involved in the students' care. Thus, expertise in developmental psychopathology, family dynamics, specific college issues, and systems of care is critical to conduct clinical treatment to college students.

Implications for Academic Leaders

  • Mental health problems are prevalent among college students with substance use, anxiety, and depression being the most common.
  • It is critical for mental health providers to develop an extensive knowledge of the prevalence and range of mental health problems occurring among college students and of the various needs of traditional as well as non-traditional college students.
  • College students may receive services from mental health providers inside and outside the campus and the need for communication is critical.
  • Strategies to enhance treatment seeking and engagement among college students should be implemented.


This research was supported by NIH K24 DA016264 to Timothy Wilens and in part by NIAAA K23AA020064-012 to Paola Pedrelli. Timothy Wilens receives/d research support from or is/has been on the advisory board for the following Pharmaceutical Companies: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Euthymics, Shire, Theravance, and TRIS. Dr. Timothy Wilens is or has been a consultant for Euthymics, Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, the National Football League, and Shire. Dr. Timothy Wilens has a published book with Guilford Press: Straight Talk About Psychiatric Medications for Kids .

Disclosure Drs. Pedrelli, Nyer, and Yeung as well as Ms. Zulauf have no conflicts of interest to report.

Contributor Information

Paola Pedrelli, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

Maren Nyer, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

Albert Yeung, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

Courtney Zulauf, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

Timothy Wilens, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

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Is it time to get rid of homework? Mental health experts weigh in.

how to solve mental health issues of students

It's no secret that kids hate homework. And as students grapple with an ongoing pandemic that has had a wide range of mental health impacts, is it time schools start listening to their pleas about workloads?

Some teachers are turning to social media to take a stand against homework. 

Tiktok user @misguided.teacher says he doesn't assign it because the "whole premise of homework is flawed."

For starters, he says, he can't grade work on "even playing fields" when students' home environments can be vastly different.

"Even students who go home to a peaceful house, do they really want to spend their time on busy work? Because typically that's what a lot of homework is, it's busy work," he says in the video that has garnered 1.6 million likes. "You only get one year to be 7, you only got one year to be 10, you only get one year to be 16, 18."

Mental health experts agree heavy workloads have the potential do more harm than good for students, especially when taking into account the impacts of the pandemic. But they also say the answer may not be to eliminate homework altogether.

Emmy Kang, mental health counselor at Humantold , says studies have shown heavy workloads can be "detrimental" for students and cause a "big impact on their mental, physical and emotional health."

"More than half of students say that homework is their primary source of stress, and we know what stress can do on our bodies," she says, adding that staying up late to finish assignments also leads to disrupted sleep and exhaustion.

Cynthia Catchings, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Talkspace , says heavy workloads can also cause serious mental health problems in the long run, like anxiety and depression. 

And for all the distress homework  can cause, it's not as useful as many may think, says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a psychologist and CEO of Omega Recovery treatment center.

"The research shows that there's really limited benefit of homework for elementary age students, that really the school work should be contained in the classroom," he says.

For older students, Kang says, homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night. 

"Most students, especially at these high achieving schools, they're doing a minimum of three hours, and it's taking away time from their friends, from their families, their extracurricular activities. And these are all very important things for a person's mental and emotional health."

Catchings, who also taught third to 12th graders for 12 years, says she's seen the positive effects of a no-homework policy while working with students abroad.

"Not having homework was something that I always admired from the French students (and) the French schools, because that was helping the students to really have the time off and really disconnect from school," she says.

The answer may not be to eliminate homework completely but to be more mindful of the type of work students take home, suggests Kang, who was a high school teacher for 10 years.

"I don't think (we) should scrap homework; I think we should scrap meaningless, purposeless busy work-type homework. That's something that needs to be scrapped entirely," she says, encouraging teachers to be thoughtful and consider the amount of time it would take for students to complete assignments.

The pandemic made the conversation around homework more crucial 

Mindfulness surrounding homework is especially important in the context of the past two years. Many students will be struggling with mental health issues that were brought on or worsened by the pandemic , making heavy workloads even harder to balance.

"COVID was just a disaster in terms of the lack of structure. Everything just deteriorated," Kardaras says, pointing to an increase in cognitive issues and decrease in attention spans among students. "School acts as an anchor for a lot of children, as a stabilizing force, and that disappeared."

But even if students transition back to the structure of in-person classes, Kardaras suspects students may still struggle after two school years of shifted schedules and disrupted sleeping habits.

"We've seen adults struggling to go back to in-person work environments from remote work environments. That effect is amplified with children because children have less resources to be able to cope with those transitions than adults do," he explains.

'Get organized' ahead of back-to-school

In order to make the transition back to in-person school easier, Kang encourages students to "get good sleep, exercise regularly (and) eat a healthy diet."

To help manage workloads, she suggests students "get organized."

"There's so much mental clutter up there when you're disorganized. ... Sitting down and planning out their study schedules can really help manage their time," she says.

Breaking up assignments can also make things easier to tackle.

"I know that heavy workloads can be stressful, but if you sit down and you break down that studying into smaller chunks, they're much more manageable."

If workloads are still too much, Kang encourages students to advocate for themselves.

"They should tell their teachers when a homework assignment just took too much time or if it was too difficult for them to do on their own," she says. "It's good to speak up and ask those questions. Respectfully, of course, because these are your teachers. But still, I think sometimes teachers themselves need this feedback from their students."

More: Some teachers let their students sleep in class. Here's what mental health experts say.

More: Some parents are slipping young kids in for the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors discourage the move as 'risky'

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How to help students cope with mental health challenges

How to help students cope with mental health challenges

As most counsellors and student support staff well know, university students are considered a group at risk when it comes to mental health issues. Thankfully, positive psychology offers tools and frameworks for developing student support strategies that foster resilient responses and mental strength, helping students draw from their internal and external resources, to cope in more positive ways with the unique challenges that they face during these testing times.

When COVID-19 hit, universities were forced to close their facilities; deal with travel restrictions and shifting directives regarding visas for international students; support social distancing measures; bear weeks of quarantine; and dramatically transition to online learning as a way to “flatten the curve”. These measures, while necessary, had a significant psychological impact on every member of the affected academic communities, let alone struggling students.

In terms of the impact that the pandemic initially had among university students, the first reports came from China, showing increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among their student population, indicating that the psychological consequences of COVID-19 could be serious. Later in 2020, a study conducted among student populations of 100+ countries discovered that during the lockdown, most students struggled with concerns about their professional future, academics, and feeling bored, anxious and frustrated.

Developing positive interventions

As the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue to unfold throughout the year 2021, university students (as much as other university communities) will have to learn how to positively cope and commit to their personal and academic goals in spite of ongoing disruption and uncertainty. This capacity is generally known as ‘psychological resilience’ and is roughly defined as one’s ability to cope with adverse situations and bounce back from them, oftentimes stronger.

Positive psychology stands out not only as the 'science of happiness', but also as the science of the 'positive response'

Given the unpredictability of this pandemic and its aftermath, it is now time for universities to develop student support strategies that move students from ‘surviving’ the effects of the pandemic, to help them successfully bounce back and even learn how to ‘thrive’ during uniquely difficult times, by building awareness of the concept of ‘resilience’ and supporting positive coping behaviours moving forward. It is possible for higher education institutions to promote a culture of resilience through the design and development of interventions aimed at preventing anticipated negative coping. What follows are three key areas to consider when planning and delivering such interventions.

1) Characteristics of planned interventions

There are many kinds of student support interventions, from the more complex, such as developing awareness campaigns, to the simplest ones, such as reaching out to a student via email. In spite of the scope of any measure, when being more intentional about crafting fair and culturally sensitive interventions, the list below offers practitioners a range of points to consider in order to expand their outreach with a truly inclusive and systemic perspective in mind:

• Accessibility: All students should be able to access tools, resources and materials, even if their financial and digital resources are limited.

• Intentional outreach: Interventions must respond to and address the needs of specific groups on campus.

• Culturally informed: Emphasise cultural sensitivity, particularly when addressing international students, students of colour, low-income and first-generation university students.

• Collaborative: Measures should strengthen collaboration with community resources; build relationships with entities that support mental health or develop meaningful links with organisations that have programmes and services that can be transferred into ‘virtual campuses’.

• Research-based: Interventions should gather data concerning students’ coping behaviours in order to build evidence-based planning and design of support systems

• Evolving: Support measures recognise the evolving nature of student needs and develop tracking mechanisms.

• Inclusive and anti-discriminatory: Approaches must challenge discrimination and stigmatisation of specific communities on campus due to COVID-19 (particularly recognising that Asian students are a vulnerable population of suffering hate speech and bullying).

• Cognisant of healthcare ecosystems: Being aware of the accessibility to physical and mental health provision that students have access to, and recognise existing gaps in the system.

2) Topics and content:

Students’ attention can be garnered if practitioners make sure that interventions address the topics and themes that matter to them. Gathering information concerning students’ needs during the pandemic is a key priority, as it is important also to offer new perspectives and strategies on how to cope with these exceptionally challenging times. What follows is an inexhaustive list of topics that provide support and encourage resilient responses:

• Introduction to resilience: Theoretical and practical dimensions of the concept of ‘psychological resilience’ should be presented and competencies such as personal efficacy, community building, usefulness, personal control, agency and continued learning, also supported.

• Effective responses to COVID-19 challenges: Interventions must continue to provide useful guidelines and information on complex challenges such as campus relocation, housing status, ability to travel, visa status (in the case of international students) and government directives.

• Academic responses: Interventions should address workload levels and allowances on grading requirements that contribute to alleviating or reducing stress.

• Screening for distressing psychological states: Measures can use social media networks as means to reach out to the university students and screen for depression/anxiety by administering standardised scales.

• Activate personal resources: Enhancing coping strategies, emotional regulation and boost self-confidence are ultimate goals of any “resilience-building” intervention.

• ‘Mental strength’ skills training: These interventions are aimed at building skills in areas such as positive thinking, anxiety control, visualisation techniques, goal setting and attentional control.

• Sense of purpose and life meaning: Research has shown that having meaning and purpose in life helps cope much more effectively with extreme difficulty. These interventions would touch upon topics such as clarity of personal goals, purpose, vision, ambitions and the ability to visualise the outcome/results of what one is doing.

3) Modalities

The medium, or how the intervention is delivered, also matters tremendously in pandemic times, when social distancing and avoiding groups is required for safety purposes. Many practitioners are aware that students prefer mental health approaches that facilitate self-management and independence, which is characteristic of online support. Whichever modality you may choose for your intervention, consider the following points:

• Participatory and research-informed: Peer-based, community-based, coalition-building and supportive of joint work between researchers and target groups in order to adapt interventional programmes to specific contexts.

• Focus on self-management: Students frequently seek telehealth applications that allow them independence, anonymity and virtual delivery.

• Technological access and provision: Digital web-based platforms, online modules, mobile apps and smart wearable sensors can enable virtual communication with caregivers, which occurs via private PCs, tablets or smartphones anytime and anywhere and only internet access is required.

• Impact of educator’s role: Awareness and effective use of modelling behaviour of the mentor in the development of resilience among students.

The above points can serve as a template when thinking of interventions to shift students’ focus from “what is wrong with me” to “what is right with me and my life” in spite of the existential storm that the COVID-19 pandemic has represented for many students. In this sense, positive psychology stands out, not only as the “science of happiness” (as it is famously touted) but also as the science of the “positive response”, putting an emphasis on our capacity to bounce back from distress, find meaning in challenges and regain agency and self-control during the most difficult of times.

As all of us will continue to face challenges that lie ahead, we as practitioners need to move from remedial to resilient interventions with our students. The pandemic goes on, but the time is now.

Jessica Price Luxembourg Jessica Price is Psychological Therapist, Lecturer and Diversity Specialist based in Luxembourg.

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How to Improve Mental Health

What is mental health.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress , relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and aging .

Why is mental health important?

Mental health is important because it can help you to:

  • Cope with the stresses of life
  • Be physically healthy
  • Have good relationships
  • Make meaningful contributions to your community
  • Work productively
  • Realize your full potential

How can I improve my mental health?

There are many different things you can do to improve your mental health, including:

  • Finding balance between positive and negative emotions. Staying positive doesn't mean that you never feel negative emotions, such as sadness or anger. You need to feel them so that you can move through difficult situations. They can help you to respond to a problem. But you don't want those emotions to take over. For example, it's not helpful to keep thinking about bad things that happened in the past or worry too much about the future.
  • Trying to hold on to the positive emotions when you have them
  • Taking a break from negative information. Know when to stop watching or reading the news. Use social media to reach out for support and feel connected to others but be careful. Don't fall for rumors, get into arguments, or negatively compare your life to others.
  • Practicing gratitude , which means being thankful for the good things in your life. It's helpful to do this every day, either by thinking about what you are grateful for or writing it down in a journal. These can be big things, such as the support you have from loved ones, or little things, such as enjoying a nice meal. It's important to allow yourself a moment to enjoy that you had the positive experience. Practicing gratitude can help you to see your life differently. For example, when you are stressed, you may not notice that there are also moments when you have some positive emotions. Gratitude can help you to recognize them.
  • Being physically active . Exercise can reduce feelings of stress and depression and improve your mood.
  • Getting enough sleep . Sleep affects your mood. If you don't get a good sleep, you may become more easily annoyed and angry. Over the long term, a lack of quality sleep can make you more likely to become depressed. So it's important to make sure that you have a regular sleep schedule and get enough quality sleep every night.
  • Healthy eating . Good nutrition will help you feel better physically but could also improve your mood and decrease anxiety and stress. Also, not having enough of certain nutrients may contribute to some mental illnesses. For example, there may be a link between low levels of vitamin B12 and depression. Eating a well-balanced diet can help you to get enough of the nutrients you need.
  • Connecting with others. Humans are social creatures, and it's important to have strong, healthy relationships with others. Having good social support may help protect you against the harms of stress. It is also good to have different types of connections. Besides connecting with family and friends, you could find ways to get involved with your community or neighborhood. For example, you could volunteer for a local organization or join a group that is focused on a hobby you enjoy.
  • Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life. This could be through your job, volunteering, learning new skills, or exploring your spirituality.
  • Developing coping skills , which are methods you use to deal with stressful situations. They may help you face a problem, take action, be flexible, and not easily give up in solving it.
  • A quiet location with as few distractions as possible
  • A specific, comfortable posture. This could be sitting, lying down, walking, or another position.
  • A focus of attention, such as a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or your breathing
  • An open attitude, where you try to let distractions come and go naturally without judging them
  • Progressive relaxation, where you tighten and relax different muscle groups, sometimes while using mental imagery or breathing exercises
  • Guided imagery, where you learn to focus on positive images in your mind, to help you feel more relaxed and focused
  • Biofeedback, where you use electronic devices to learn to control certain body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension
  • Self-hypnosis, where the goal is to get yourself into a relaxed, trance-like state when you hear a certain suggestion or see a specific cue
  • Deep breathing exercises, which involve focusing on taking slow, deep, even breaths

It's also important to recognize when you need to get help. Talk therapy and/or medicines can treat mental disorders . If you don't know where to get treatment, start by contacting your primary care provider.

  • 31 Tips To Boost Your Mental Health (Mental Health America)

From the National Institutes of Health

  • Live Your Life Well (Mental Health America)

Treatments and Therapies

  • For a Healthy Mind and Body Talk to a Psychologist (American Psychological Association) Also in Spanish
  • Get Professional Help if You Need It (Mental Health America)

Related Issues

  • Anger Management: 10 Tips to Tame Your Temper (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
  • Resilience (American Psychological Association) Also in Spanish
  • Stress Management: Stress Relievers (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
  • Connect with Others (Mental Health America)
  • Create Joy and Satisfaction (Mental Health America)
  • Creating a Healthier Life: A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
  • Deal Better with Hard Times (Mental Health America)
  • Eat Well (Mental Health America)
  • Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Get Physically Active (Mental Health America)
  • Help Others (Mental Health America)
  • Managing Daily Stress (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
  • Nutrition and Mental Health (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
  • Self-Esteem: Take Steps to Feel Better about Yourself (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Spirituality and Health (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
  • Stay Positive (Mental Health America)
  • Take Care of Your Spirit (Mental Health America)

Statistics and Research

Find an expert.

  • American Psychiatric Association
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • 3 Ways to Practice Gratitude (For Teens) (Nemours Foundation)
  • Gratitude (For Teens) (Nemours Foundation)
  • Steps to Support Good Mental Health (Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health) Also in Spanish

The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.

5 Ways To Help Students With Mental Health Issues

Author biography.

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Daisy-May Lewis

Why are we failing students with mental health issues?

The current provision for students with mental health needs is unsatisfactory. With so many cuts to mental health services, school staff have a tough task.

Jeremy Hunt has announced a new £5 million programme to train primary school staff in mental health first aid; it will help teachers spot the early signs of mental illness in young children and follows a similar scheme introduced in secondary schools last summer.

Is this enough? The simple answer is no.

This is a mere drop in the ocean to improving the lives and outcomes for young people with mental health needs. With at least 850,000 children living with diagnosed mental health conditions in the UK and the stigma of mental health stopping people seeking help from mental health services, teachers on the front line are crying out for support with our most vulnerable pupils.

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It can be demoralising to work with students with poor mental health every day and not see them get any consistent support. As a teacher who works in a secondary school for students with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs this is becoming ever more apparent.

We see our students for six and a half hours a day where they are taught, emotionally coached, fed, have their clothes washed and often feel safe. The majority of them then return to potentially unsafe situations at home, or environments where the adults that they rely on have severe unmet mental health needs themselves. We teach mental health on the curriculum, have every member of staff trained in emotional coaching, have strong links to CAMHS and well known counselling and mental health charities, have a designated mental health and wellbeing lead and staff trained in mental health first aid.

However, we still find ourselves going around in an endless cycle of crisis to referral on a weekly basis only to be told that the service is full or that the families do not wish to be involved with mental health services, leaving us again to spend our teaching time supporting students in a crisis of their own mental health.

5 Ways To Help

Some of the country’s most vulnerable young people with SEMH needs have been let down by the system, what do we need to do to support them and allow them to access society again?

1. A whole school approach

Current research consistently shows that using a whole school approach is the most effective intervention and that it’s particularly effective at improving outcomes for those most at risk.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England recommend that schools use this approach. See the advice given by Bristol Healthy Schools .

A whole school approach means your school needs to:

  • Identify the mental health needs within the school
  • have leadership in place for mental health and wellbeing
  • deliver high quality teaching around mental health and wellbeing
  • have a culture that promotes mental health and wellbeing
  • have an environment that promotes mental health and wellbeing
  • make sure pupils and staff are aware of and able to access a range of mental health services
  • support staff wellbeing
  • be committed to pupil and parent participation

2. Appoint a mental health lead

To lead targeted interventions, work with primary mental health specialists, train teachers and support staff in various mental health conditions and how to support them, make CAMHS referrals and be a go to for supporting staff and students with their mental health needs.

3. Training for all staff in mental health first aid

The Government support to train one member of staff needs to be cascaded down onto all staff so that they are better equipped to deal with student’s mental health needs.

4. Run staff CPD on mental health

Take a look at:

MindED e-learning

Young Minds Training

or local charities such as Off the Record in Bristol

5. Teach students about mental health

As important as it is for adults to understand and be well equipped to deal with mental health, it is also equally important for our young people to have knowledge on mental health conditions and where to go for support if they are worried about themselves or someone else.

There are excellent teaching resources for teaching mental health from Jigsaw and STRIDE resources for secondary aged pupils.

Staff in schools are going above and beyond every day to support students with mental health needs, if you have any suggestions or tried and tested strategies please share this information in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “ 5 Ways To Help Students With Mental Health Issues ”

I have just this moment finished an Email to a friend complaining about how my current school is failing some (all) of it’s student because there is not plan beyond excluding them when they persistently misbehave. These are children who can easily be identified as ADHD or ASC. There are no personal action plans just a belief that they will ‘eventually get the message’. Clearly someone(s) in the senior management of my school thinks that if you keep doing the same thing you will get a different result.

  • Pingback: Talking About Children's Mental Health | TeacherToolkit
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  • Pingback: A Whole-School Approach To Mental Health | TeacherToolkit

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How Educators and Teens Disagree on What’s Harming Students’ Mental Health, in Charts

how to solve mental health issues of students

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For the adults in K-12 schools, the biggest source of students’ mental angst is clear: bullying online through social media and via text.

But high school students have a very different opinion on what’s dragging down their mental health. Among teens, the most cited factor is stress related to finishing schoolwork and homework, followed by grades.

Those results come from a pair of new surveys from the EdWeek Research Center, which polled high school-age kids in September and educators—teachers, principals, and district leaders—in October. The detailed results of the surveys are listed in the charts below, but first some analysis.

Image of mental health and mental wellness.

What’s going on here? How can educator and student perspectives on these issues be so different? Part of the discrepancy might be due to the fact that the educator poll included teachers and principals from elementary and middle schools as well as high schools, whereas the student survey was of only high school students.

But another reason is that students and educators simply have different perceptions of what the root causes are of students’ mental health problems.

Combined, both sets of responses offer a fuller picture of what is corroding students’ mental wellbeing, said Sharon Hoover, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The survey results also serve as a warning to adults not to become too fixated on one cause of students’ mental health problems, she said.

Hoover, who is also a co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health, said it’s not surprising that adults would be quick to point to issues related to social media use as students’ primary stressor.

“Some of the adults might be more keen to identify something that they didn’t experience as a stressor when they were growing up,” said Hoover. “I think there is a quick assumption that the increase in mental health concerns must be related to something new to this generation. I don’t think it’s completely unfounded. The data does suggest that, yes, there are harms that come with exposure to social media, especially certain uses of social media like passive utilization where you’re just scrolling and looking at photos and doing a comparison analysis of your life to others.”

Educators might also be more likely to minimize—or fail to recognize altogether—how the schoolwork and homework they assign might be hurting students’ mental health.

“There has been the status quo to assign homework, so adults aren’t thinking about this,” even as pressure to catch students up academically after the pandemic may have pushed the amount of schoolwork and homework teachers are assigning beyond a healthy threshold, Hoover said.

Mental health solutions SR Lead 04

For their part, teens might be deemphasizing the negative impact social media use is having on their mental health. It is designed to be addictive, said Hoover, and teens might be incentivized to downplay how anything related to social media, like online bullying, is hurting their moods for fear that it might be taken away from them. Teens may also not be aware of how social media might be making them feel bad, she said.

Ultimately, Hoover said it’s important for educators to understand that it’s a complex mix of factors —ranging from students’ physical health to the socioeconomic status of their families to the political environment around them—that are contributing to their mental health challenges. Not recognizing that can have consequences, she said, especially if all the solutions are focused on only one potential factor, like online bullying or social media use.

“This is why we ask multiple people about this because everyone has a unique and valuable perspective, and when you have grown up with social media you may not be able to recognize some of the harms,” said Hoover. “But also the youth are presenting this perspective that is important: we know that the academic context right now is burdensome on their mental health.”

The EdWeek Research Center surveys also asked students and educators if students had an adult they felt safe speaking with at school. Again, there are noteworthy differences between educator and student answers—and even the responses among students based on race—which are detailed in the charts below.

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Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.

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How Students Can Rethink Problem Solving

Finding, shaping, and solving problems puts high school students in charge of their learning and bolsters critical-thinking skills.

Students talking in school hallway

As an educator for over 20 years, I’ve heard a lot about critical thinking , problem-solving , and inquiry and how they foster student engagement. However, I’ve also seen students draw a blank when they’re given a problem to solve. This happens when the problem is too vast for them to develop a solution or they don’t think the situation is problematic. 

As I’ve tried, failed, and tried again to engage my students in critical thinking, problem-solving, and inquiry, I’ve experienced greater engagement when I allow them to problem-find, problem-shape, and problem-solve. This shift in perspective has helped my students take direct ownership over their learning.

Encourage Students to Find the Problem 

When students ask a question that prompts their curiosity, it motivates them to seek out an answer. This answer often highlights a problem. 

For example, I gave my grade 11 students a list of topics to explore, and they signed up for a topic that they were interested in. From that, they had to develop a research question. This allowed them to narrow the topic down to what they were specifically curious about. 

Developing a research question initiated the research process. Students launched into reading information from reliable sources including Britannica , Newsela , and EBSCOhost . Through the reading process, they were able to access information so that they could attempt to find an answer to their question.

The nature of a good question is that there isn’t an “answer.” Instead, there are a variety of answers. This allowed students to feel safe in sharing their answers because they couldn’t be “wrong.” If they had reliable, peer-reviewed academic research to support their answer, they were “right.”

Shaping a Problem Makes Overcoming It More Feasible 

When students identify a problem, they’re compelled to do something about it; however, if the problem is too large, it can be overwhelming for them. When they’re overwhelmed, they might shut down and stop learning. For that reason, it’s important for them to shape the problem by taking on a piece they can handle.

To help guide students, provide a list of topics and allow them to choose one. In my experience, choosing their own topic prompts students’ curiosity—which drives them to persevere through a challenging task. Additionally, I have students maintain their scope at a school, regional, or national level. Keeping the focus away from an international scope allows them to filter down the number of results when they begin researching. Shaping the problem this way allowed students to address it in a manageable way.

Students Can Problem-Solve with Purpose

Once students identified a slice of a larger problem that they could manage, they started to read and think about it, collaborate together, and figure out how to solve it. To further support them in taking on a manageable piece of the problem, the parameters of the solution were that it had to be something they could implement immediately. For example, raising $3 million to build a shelter for those experiencing homelessness in the community isn’t something that students can do tomorrow. Focusing on a solution that could be implemented immediately made it easier for them to come up with viable options. 

With the problem shaped down to a manageable piece, students were better able to come up with a solution that would have a big impact. This problem-solving process also invites ingenuity and innovation because it allows teens to critically look at their day-to-day lives and experiences to consider what actions they could take to make a difference in the world. It prompts them to look at their world through a different lens.

When the conditions for inquiry are created by allowing students to problem-find, problem-shape and problem-solve, it allows students to do the following:

  • Critically examine their world to identify problems that exist
  • Feel empowered because they realize that they can be part of a solution
  • Innovate by developing new solutions to old problems

Put it All Together to Promote Change

Here are two examples of what my grade 11 students came up with when tasked with examining the national news to problem-find, problem-shape, and problem-solve.

Topic: Indigenous Issues in Canada

Question: How are Indigenous peoples impacted by racism?

Problem-find: The continued racism against Indigenous peoples has led to the families of murdered women not attaining justice, Indigenous peoples not being able to gain employment, and Indigenous communities not being able to access basic necessities like healthcare and clean water.

Problem-shape: A lot of the issues that Indigenous peoples face require government intervention. What can high school teens do to combat these issues?

Problem-solve: Teens need to stop supporting professional sports teams that tokenize Indigenous peoples, and if they see a peer wearing something from such a sports team, we need to educate them about how the team’s logo perpetuates racism.

Topic: People With Disabilities in Canada

Question: What leads students with a hearing impairment to feel excluded?

Problem-find: Students with a hearing impairment struggle to engage with course texts like films and videos.

Problem-shape: A lot of the issues that students with a hearing impairment face in schools require teachers to take action. What can high school teens do to help their hearing-impaired peers feel included?

Problem-solve: When teens share a video on social media, they should turn the closed-captioning on, so that all students can consume the media being shared.

Once my students came up with solutions, they wanted to do something about it and use their voices to engage in global citizenship. This led them to create TikTok and Snapchat videos and Instagram posts that they shared and re-shared among their peer group. 

The learning that students engaged in led to their wanting to teach others—which allowed a greater number of students to learn. This whole process engendered conversations about our world and helped them realize that they aren’t powerless; they can do things to initiate change in areas that they’re interested in and passionate about. It allowed them to use their voices to educate others and promote change.


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