How Colleges are Trying to Keep Up With The Growing Challenges of Stress and Substance Abuse On Campuses

How Colleges are Trying to Keep Up With The Growing Challenges of Stress and Substance Abuse On Campuses

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According to a recent article in Time (2019), the number of college students seeking treatment for anxiety and depression on campuses is growing rapidly. Universities are trying to keep up with the demand by offering more resources devoted to rapid-access services including walk-in appointments and crisis treatment for students demonstrating signs of distress. However, these same institutions are finding it hard to keep up with long-term treatment services such as specialized counseling and recurring appointments due to limited resources. “The average university has one professional counselor for every 1,737 students, fewer than the minimum of one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services. Some counselors say they are experiencing “battle fatigue” and are overwhelmed by the increase in students asking for help (Time).” 

To better understand the challenges facing universities nation-wide, it’s important to understand the factors causing a rise in student stress and mental health issues, how substance abuse plays a role in how students cope with stress, and what is being done to tackle this growing problem on college campuses. 

Why Are Students Struggling?

What’s causing college students to struggle with life on campus? While it’s normal for students to feel the pressures of college such as exams and adjusting to more independence, today’s kids are facing even greater pressures to achieve and out-perform their classmates – causing major anxiety. Other issues causing stress include:  

  • Transitioning to college life – in the Time article, Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders states, “In elementary and high school there’s lots of rules and lots of structure. Now that [life is] more free-floating, there’s anxiety. That’s perhaps why, for many students, mental health issues creep up for the first time when they start college. (The average age of onset for many mental health issues, including depression and bipolar disorder, occurs in the early 20s.)”
  • Pre-existing conditions – students already have a mental health disorder when they enroll, many of which may be undiagnosed.
  • Course load – students feel overwhelmed by course workloads and feel lost in classes where he or she is one student out of hundreds. 
  • Lack of resources – colleges may not have enough counseling resources or staff to keep up with student demand, causing many students to fall through the cracks and not get the mental health services needed.
  • Parental pressures and financial stress – many students feel parental pressure to achieve and feel shame, isolation, and anxiety if they are struggling or failing course. Students are also concerned about their growing debt and paying back student loans.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse on Campus

Many students facing mental health issues and not getting the proper treatment and counseling they need are turning to substance use to cope with the pressures of college life. Marijuana, alcohol, and stimulants such as Adderall are among the most popular substances being abused or misused on campuses today. According to a national study conducted by The University of Michigan, “College students’ use of marijuana was at the highest levels seen in the past three decades in 2016, and that trend remained true in 2017. Today’s high levels of marijuana use among the nation’s 19-to-22-year-olds result from a gradual increase over the past decade. In 2017, 38 percent of full-time college students aged 19-22 reported using marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months, and 21 percent reported using at least once in the prior 30 days.” 

According to a Forbes report on substance abuse on college campuses, “alcohol is widely used as a way of countering stress, with six out of 10 students saying they drink to help them cope with campus life. The findings expose the worrying extent to which students turn to artificial aids not for recreational use but as a coping mechanism, at a time of a growing focus on mental health on campus.” And while students may feel a temporary relief when taking these substances, drugs like alcohol and marijuana eventually exacerbate the symptoms they tried to relieve in the first place – causing long-term issues such as sleeplessness, depression, and increased anxiety.

How Universities Are Handling Student Mental Health Challenges

According to the Time article, in order to deal with the growing need for mental health services on campus and prevent students from burning out and dropping out, colleges across the country are thinking outside the box and experimenting with new ways to address the growing problem including:

  • UCLA offered all incoming students a free online screening for depression. More than 2,700 students have opted in, and counselors have followed up with more than 250 who were identified as being at risk for severe depression, exhibiting manic behavior or having suicidal thoughts.
  • Ohio State University launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to boost moods, and contact the clinic in case of an emergency. 

Even though colleges are trying to meet the growing demand for mental health services, some students are still slipping through the cracks due to long waits for treatment. But there is always hope, especially if a student is dealing with a mental health disorder and substance abuse. At Silver Lining Recovery, we offer outpatient treatment and post-rehab programs that can help college students who are facing co-occurring disorders get the help they need to lead an addiction-free life. In addition, we also help to plan and execute appropriate individual or group programs, activities, and services to assist individuals with their academic planning leading to successful career mapping later in their life. Remember, you are not alone, call 1-833-8GROWTH to learn more about a new life in sobriety.