Mental Health on College Campuses: Challenges and Solutions

Adjusting to college life can be challenging, as students navigate newfound independence and more rigorous courses. It can feel especially daunting for students who face mental health challenges, which for many were heightened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Campuses are facing what many experts call a mental health crisis. For example, 70% of students said they have struggled with mental health since starting college, according to a recent U.S. News/Generation Lab report, which surveyed 3,649 college students in March 2024.

Many Students Struggle But Don’t Seek Help

Despite expressing a need for care, however, most students are not seeking it. Per the report, only 37% of respondents searched for mental health resources at their college. Many students said they chose not to look for support because of negative past experiences, feeling that mental health care is ineffective, fear of social stigma, cost and uncertainty about how to connect with help resources.

Other research shows that students of color are less likely than their white peers to seek help for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

“The data that we have does not speak to the widest range of needs for our young people of color, who are also LGBTQIA+, who are also young people with disabilities, who are also young people who are neurodivergent,” Alfiee Breland-Noble, psychologist and founder of The AAKOMA Project, said June 5 during a panel discussion on college student mental health at U.S. News & World Report’s “The State of Equity in America” conference in Washington, D.C. “So we want to bifurcate kids and talk about them as either this group or that group. And I think that lends itself to the challenges on many college campuses.”

[Read: Stress in College Students: What to Know.]

Of students who participated in the U.S. News/Generation Lab poll and indicated they wanted mental health support, 77% were successfully connected to mental health care. Most of them — 70% — said they received resources for help right away or after about a week, while 7% had to wait more than three months.

Range of Needs and Resources

Students sought care for a range of reasons, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and trauma. Among survey respondents who received support, 69% felt it was sufficient.

To address these issues, many colleges offer counseling services on campus and partner with national telehealth services to provide around-the-clock care.

“Now that doesn’t work for everybody, but I think it’s important that for some of our students it does work quite well,” Dr. Estevan A. Garcia, chief health and wellness officer at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said during the panel discussion. “Unlimited availability, unlimited reach.”

Telehealth can also “allow you to do things like ensure that the young person is going to have somebody who physically resembles somebody they feel like they can relate to,” Breland-Noble says.

Colleges must also be prepared to address moments of crisis, and with sensitivity, experts say.

“Students live in residential households, they live in suites and they live in dorms,” Lakshmi Chilukuri, provost of Sixth College at the University of California, San Diego, noted during the panel discussion. “They have roommates. Sometimes the student is undergoing a lot of stress. … They have a breakdown. They have an episode. Students call in this moment of concern. Prior response used to be the police department (would) come in to do what they call a welfare check. This is so threatening, not just to the student experiencing the crisis but to those around them.”

Instead, for instance, UC San Diego sends in a crisis response team with a clinician to assess the situation.

“You don’t add to the crisis they already have,” Chilukuri says. “You don’t add to the crisis that their roommates have by blowing this thing out of proportion. You address the issue as it is, in the moment. And if they do need more help, if they do need to go to emergency room, they go with the clinician. Case management is important.”

[How to Maintain Good Mental Health During College Breaks]

What Colleges Should Prioritize

There needs to be a focus on raising awareness around mental health among families and community members, experts say.

“I’m Gen X and I have baby boomer parents,” Breland-Noble says. “There are differences in terms of how we approach mental health,” she adds, so older generations often must be given the tools and support to better understand mental health and engage in related conversations with college-age students.

Colleges should train faculty on how to recognize mental health issues so they can point students to the right resources, like where to find emergency housing, Chilukuri says.

“The larger the university is, the larger your faculty is, the harder it is to do that training,” she says.

To meet all students’ needs — whether they struggle with their mental health or are neurodivergent — it’s also important to examine what messages “our built environments and learning environments … are communicating to the students, the faculty and staff that are actually occupying those spaces,” Renae Mantooth, research lead of education at HKS, an interdisciplinary global design firm, and assistant professor at North Carolina State University, said during the panel discussion.

“They spend a lot of time there,” she says. “What is prioritized? What is not prioritized? How (can) we get our spaces to really reflect this current population of people?”

[7 Mental Health Tips for International Students]

There should also be efforts to destigmatize mental illness, Garcia says.

“We want to make sure that students are comfortable coming forward and asking for help. And also that we can engage them in a way that they don’t necessarily have to ask,” he says. “It’s an interesting time to be doing this work, and there’s real opportunity for us to impact students moving forward.”

Addressing mental health issues is not just about supporting students in college, it’s also about preparing them for life after graduation, experts say.

“We need to talk to the companies that are hiring our students to understand what does their setup look like,” Chilukuri says. “If we are going to prepare our students to be hired by those companies, we need to understand what they are going to adapt to and what they are going to experience the minute they step out of what is a very supportive college environment.”

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Mental Health on College Campuses: Challenges and Solutions originally appeared on

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