The Rise of Mental Illness in College Students

Mental health issues are spreading across college campuses like wildfire. With the pandemic still lingering, college students are facing the challenges of isolation, stress with grades, being overworked, dealing with financial situations, and much more. 

The transition of coming to college straight out of high school is one that will cause many stresses. You could be going to a much larger school than your high school, you could be the first in your family going to college, and you’re most likely going to feel pretty lonely not knowing anyone. 

Anxiety is a very common thing, and especially in college. The transition of coming to college can cause a lot of emotional distress for new students. 

Anxiety is the leading cause among mental health illnesses in college with 41.6% of students that said they have been diagnosed with it. Depression follows with 36.4% according to a survey from the American Psychological Association.

There are multiple factors that can impact the rise of anxiety is college students. 


Loneliness in the transition from home to college can be overwhelming. You go from being with your family and high school friends every day, to being in a dorm room with a stranger. It can be difficult making friends in your first weeks at college. Facing this loneliness can lead to feeling anxious.  

Kirstin Budney, a senior college student at BU said, “I’ve never felt as lonely as I did in my freshman year of school. I was used to being at home and surrounded by my family, then all the sudden, I wasn’t. It was actually a really terrifying thing,” she said with a laugh. 

“I wanted to go home every weekend because I felt everyone had friends already then there was me,” Budney went on to say. She said that she started putting herself out there more. She invited people she had met through social media to hang out or go grab lunch with her. 

“That’s really what you have to do,” Budney said. “You need to put yourself out there or else you will continue to feel alone.”


The workload in college is a little more intense than it is in high school. You are responsible for everything that you do. This means going to class, finishing assignments on time, studying for exams, and etc. For some people, keeping good grades can cause mass amounts of anxiety. 

Test taking can be another cause of anxiety. Some students can get easily overwhelmed with taking test in person. Especially after have two years all online, there’s bound to be some anxiety with taking a test in person. 

Peer Pressure

We can see anxiety existing in peer pressure. In college, there is a lot of firsts that happen. There’s underage drinking, drug use, and relationships. This can be extremely nerve-racking for a new college student. We could see anxiety through the initial invite of these activities and the internal struggle that a student would have to face that would lead to anxiety. There is then the anxious thoughts of getting made fun of for not doing said activities. 

Fear of the Future

In your four years at college, there is bound to be anxious thoughts about what is to come in the future. Students could feel a sense of uncertainty with what they want to do with the rest of their life. We could also see anxiety is paying student loans in the future, what you will do with your degree, if you will be able to find a job, and so much more. Anxiety flourishes in the idea of uncertainty and the unknown. 

There are many more factors that can contribute to the rise of anxiety in college students. These were just a few common ones that many college students may experience in their four years. Many students will feel anxious thoughts at some point in their college career. 

We can see anxiety in many different forms. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anxiety disorders, as well as depression are common mental illnesses in college students. 

Mental illness comes in various forms. Some types of mental health illnesses are anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and psychotic disorders. 

24.5% of college students are taking some kind of antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and mood stabilizers such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Lamotrigine, according to The Zebra’s statistic.  

College student, London Butler, has been on anxiety medication since her freshman year of college. Now a senior, she had a few words to share. 

“Get on the medication before you hit your low. When I started college, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never had anxiety before, but I felt all these feelings that I didn’t quite understand.”

She went on to say that she had a talk with her parents, that then encouraged her to make an appointment with her doctor. She said she was thankful she started taking her medication when she did. “I can’t imagine the last 3 years not being on my medicine. It’s a weird subject that people don’t really like to talk about, but it’s something that needs to be talked about,” Butler said. 

Addressing your mental health head on in college is an important thing to do. It’s crucial that you do this early before it is too late. 64% of students drop out of college because of mental health problems, according to a survey from What To Become.

95% of college counselors reported that mental health concern is growing on their campus, according to The Zebra. Colleges have counselors on campus that are available to talk to about your mental health concerns. In the midst of COVID, many counseling centers offer tele-health appoints that can be on video call, such as Zoom. This can help make the counseling experience less scary and help to ease anxiety over meeting in person. 

There are many ways to help cope with mental illness. You can talk to your doctor or counselor about starting a medication. This is a great first step into figuring out how to live with your mental illness. 

There are also small, everyday things that you can do that can help to benefit your mental health. Making sure that you are eating healthy and fueling foods, drinking lots of water, exercising daily, getting enough sleep, deep breathing exercises, setting realistic goals, and so much more. 

While mental health may seem like a burden to college students, there are ways to take your mental illness and become a stronger student and person through it.

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