Mental Health Challenges in College Students & How to Find Support

Author: Sarah Perowne

Last update: 3/3/2023

Mental Health Resources for College Students Header

Learn about the mental health challenges college students face and find college mental health resources to get support when you need it.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or their Chat line, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential, and anyone can use the service.

Everyone says your college years are supposed to be the best of your life, but what happens when you start to feel lost, depressed, overwhelmed or disassociated? Taking care of your mental health in college is important, and looking out for mental health signs from your friends or children is crucial to getting support for yourself or encouraging others who are struggling to do so. This guide will introduce some mental health challenges facing college students today, with tips on identifying potential struggles and where to find support and resources.

Why is Mental Health Important & How is it Affecting College Students Today?

Mental health is how we think, see, and perceive the world around us. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, affecting how we think about things, feel, and act. Mental health can also determine how we handle stress, anxiety, make decisions, and relate to others.

According to mental health experts in the U.S., college students face more anxiety, stress, and mental health challenges than ever, with the effects of the covid pandemic, school shootings, devastating world news, economic strain, social injustice, and mass violence. College students are juggling an alarming array of challenges, not to mention the heavy workload, adjustments to campus life, and relationships to attend to as part of their college lives.

A 2021 Fall 2021 National College Health Assessment study found that around 30% of college student participants said that anxiety negatively affected their academic performance. Over 1 in 5 reported having been diagnosed with depression by professionals. Similarly, an annual study by The Healthy Minds Network reported that in 2021, there are improvements in students accessing support and institutions identifying potential risks, but more needs to be done on an individual level to help those struggling with identity and mental health inequities.

So, what can be done, and how can we support ourselves or those struggling with mental health challenges around us?

Student facing mental health challenges

What Causes Poor Mental Health in College Students?

There are many factors to one's mental health; what is challenging for some might not be challenging for others; however, in a world of societal pressure, these are some mental health struggles that college students may face today.

1. Finances

The cost of living is rising, meaning many college students face more debt after graduation and have to navigate getting employment during and after college. If you're facing financial difficulties, get in touch with your financial aid office, and see if there are any grants, scholarships, or support you can get from Federal Work Study.

2. Autonomy and Homesickness

For many, going to college means leaving behind those you love the most, sometimes moving to a new state. It could also mean you've left behind home comforts and have to navigate freedom and autonomy differently. College is a time to discover who you are and what you want, but this can leave many overwhelmed and homesick.

3. Social Pressure

For those struggling with mental health, it can be difficult to keep up with the constant coming and goings of college life. In addition to academic pressures, college life introduces students to social pressures, like the unobtainable pressure of making millions of friends or ongoing events to attend. It can also make those with social anxiety question themselves leading to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

4. Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety is a huge pressure, regardless of how you deal with things. Performance anxiety in college can be exacerbated by social pressures, academic stress, financial stress, family expectations, and limiting self-belief. For those struggling with mental health, this can become debilitating, leading to self-isolation, unhealthy procrastination, overworking, and many other things. If you're struggling with performance anxiety or anxiety in general, talk to your college, and see if they partner with any local mental health providers or if they can support you on campus.

5. Living with Strangers

This might be the first time you have lived or cohabitated with strangers, which can increase the turmoil of college challenges, leading you to ask questions like, what if they don't like me? What if I don't like them? What if we don't get on? How do I live with someone I don't like? In these moments, it's very important to remember that firstly, you're not going to be liked by everyone; similarly, you're not going to like everyone. Secondly, your room should be a safe and comforting space to return to, so setting boundaries and having open communication with someone, regardless of whether you get on or not, is key.

6. Heavy Workloads

College isn't a walk in the park; it's going to get tough, and at times you might feel like, is it all worth it? Depending on your course load, you might have a few things going on at a time. Make use of your downtime and focus on things you enjoy. That way, when you return to whatever you have to do, you're refreshed and invigorated. Remember, college can teach you valuable life skills, but it's important to keep a schedule that works for you, so you don't get burned out.

7. Relationships

All relationships take work, whether romantic, a friendship, platonic, casual, or a relationship with yourself. When students face the stresses of college life, the pressure to make them work can become even greater. For students struggling with relationships, talking to a friend, getting help from family members, or doing some inner work could help. If that doesn't work for you, journalling, meditating or taking some time to process might.

8. Family and Loss

While at college, a few things might happen, such as losing a family member, someone important to you, or even family dynamics you have to deal with, all while trying to get on with your studies. There's also the added pressure of independence and identity; yes, college is a time for self-discovery, but this can lead many to further struggle with their mental health.

9. Body Image

Social media perfection is unattainable, but added to that comes body image, societal pressures to look a certain way, and "beautiful people" at the touch of a button. For those who struggle with eating disorders, the freedom of college can also put added pressure, as can figuring out your gender identity, navigating social constructs, and experiencing body dysmorphia. Not to say that everyone student will feel this way, but getting help discovering yourself is important. Learn more about body neutrality with The Body Grievers Podcast.

10. News & Information

At times, the world is a turbulent place to be. It's not the same as when our parents went to college or moved out; information is at our fingertips, which means a lot more college students are growing up in the post-9/11 era, exposed to more trauma from media, more aware of devastating global events, school shootings, etc. So, being in this news cycle 24/7 can take its toll.

College Mental Health

Get Mental Health Support When You Need It

If you're struggling with your mental health, or your friend or child is looking for affordable support and resources separate from your college campus, look at these college mental health resources. Some are free, and some require a small subscription fee. Remember asking for support and help can be difficult or embarrassing for some, so never force anyone to do something they aren't ready for.

Off-Campus and On-Campus Support

Before enrolling in a college, it might be worth checking out what mental health services your campus offers and how they can support you during your college years. For example, the Jed Foundation partners with colleges to create programs and policies to help students connect to mental health support. They can offer referrals for services off campus too.

Crisis Text Line

Crisis Text Line is free 24/7 support when you need it most. You can text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the U.S., and a live trained-Crisis Counselor will respond from their secure online platform. It works on Whatsapp, too; just head to their site.
NAMI Helpline

The NAMI Helpline is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ET. You can call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or text Helpline to 62640. They also have local NAMI affiliates, NAMI support groups, and NAMI programs. It isn't a crisis line or suicide prevention line.
Local Association of Psychology Training Clinics

If you want to find out what mental health support there might be in your local area or state, the APTC has a comprehensive list that will take you to each website. Simply search by the college or scroll down for your chosen state.

The Center

The Center is a New York-based service that fosters a welcoming environment. They offer the LGBTQ+ communities of NYC support services, advocacy, and support programs for work, life, and mental health struggles. The Center is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Anonymous Support Groups

If you'd prefer to stay anonymous and protect your privacy, you can access many support services off-campus.


Togetherall is a free safe online community to share what's happening and get support when you need it.
Anxiety & Depression Association of America

The ADAA, English language peer-to-peer online anxiety and depression group, Spanish online support group, and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) group are free and supportive places for individuals to share information and connect with others going through the same challenges.

Hey Peers

Another great resource where you can connect with others is Hey Peers. Interact with coaches and trained peer support specialists on any device, anytime.
Peer Health Exchange

Equally, if you want a more youth-based service, Peer Health Exchange created Selfsea, a free safe digital place app where you can access resources, support, and stories from young adults who have been there. Safesea is available on Apple or Google Play.

Mental Health Apps & Podcasts

Diary of a CEO

Steven Bartlett, a former CEO of a multimillion-pound industry-leading marketing company, created "The Diary Of A CEO" to unfilter what we think is success and to give listeners knowledge to create the life they want. He interviews many industry professionals and individuals who talk about mental health and what it means to live in today's world. You can catch his podcast on Apple, Spotify, and Youtube.


Moodfit is a free downloadable app on Apple and Google Play. The basic subscription includes free mood tracking, gratitude journaling, and setting goals. For more features, they offer a few monthly or yearly subscriptions for a minimum of $19.99 for 6 months. They also offer a gift subscription.

7Cups was created to support individuals struggling with their mental health alone. Thanks to their volunteers, they offer a free anonymous online chat service and affordable counseling for anyone over 18+. You can also find support in their community chat rooms and forums.
CWC Talks

CWC Talks is the college mental health podcast created by the Counseling and Wellness Center at the University of Florida. The podcast is devoted to honest conversations about mental health and wellness for college and beyond. They talk about exploring identity, coping with stress, finding joy, and more. It is available for anyone, regardless of whether you go to the UF.
MindShift CBT

The free app from MindShift CBT  is designed for young people. It uses proven CBT-based tools to reorientate thinking, a chill zone where you can listen to guided meditations, goal setting, and coping cards. There is also a community forum for users over 18+.

Be kind to your mind with Headspace. Learn through guided meditation techniques, manage stress, and get better sleep. The app is free to download with a 7-day trial, but there is a monthly fee if you want to access more features after the trial. They also have a free Headspace Youtube channel for more support resources.
Mental Health Books and Resources

Supporting Your College Student: Resources for Parents & Guardians

There's no other way to say it. The first year of college can be hard, especially the transition between a controlled, organized senior year of high school, where students learn in a more structured environment. There's a lot to be getting on with, from financial worries, social expectations, academic achievements, and pressure from outside forces. It's a lot. So, how can parents or guardians support their college students to enroll and continue to support them throughout their college years?  Let's look at how you can support your college student without taking over but showing them they have your support.

Parent Toolkit

The NBC Parent Toolkit Guides are a great resource to have on hand as soon as your child starts Pre-K up to flying the nest in college. They've got articles on things mental health counselors wish parents understood, so you can better understand your young adult, college terminology guides, and how to talk to college kids about suicide when you want to help your child talk about their feelings in a supportive place. Remember, it's not about fixing; it's about listening.
Federal Student Aid

Financial worries are at the top of the list regarding college mental health challenges, not just for students but for parents too. Firstly, having an open, honest conversation about finances is a great place to start. Exploring options together of what financial aid might be available is another. The Federal Student Aid has many articles, support chats, helpful tips, and how-to fill out the FAFSA form guides to support you along this journey.
Big Future

Big Future helps parents and students plan for college and was created by College Board, a not-for-profit organization that connects students to colleges and opportunities. Their mission is to prepare students successfully in transitioning from high school to college. They've got guides on paying for college, choosing the right college, applications, and what to do if you're waitlisted.
The College Parent Podcast

Struggling to know how to support your college student? The College Parent Podcast helps equip college parents with the tools to have meaningful and successful conversations with their college students. It's available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or their Chat line, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential, and anyone can use the service.