On-Campus Health Resources to Know (and Use)
Student mental health—already in crisis before COVID-19—worsened following two years of isolation, upheaval and stress. Students facing this issue may not know where to go when they're away from home.
Because of this, some engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, to feel something or to help numb the pain. But there are helpful resources, on and off campus, available for people who are struggling.
Why do college students struggle with mental health?
During 2020 and 2021, 60 percent of college students met the criteria for one or more mental health problems, according to the Healthy Minds Study.
But the lingering impact of the former pandemic is not the only strain on college health, said Marcus Hotaling, Ph.D., the director of the counseling center at Union College in Schenectady, New York.
"There are school shootings—so the places you're supposed to feel safe are now at risk," Hotaling said. "Then, throw in issues like systemic racism and homophobia, which are now ever-present in our minds due to social media and 24-hour news coverage. All these have an impact on student mental health."
People of all ages and professions struggle with mental health, according to Angela Stowe, Ph.D., the director of student counseling services at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. However, university students face a unique set of circumstances that can make them more vulnerable to mental health concerns.
College students' health—physical and mental—may be impacted by the following:
- Academic stress. "Academics can be the heaviest stressor because there is a lot of pressure attached," Stowe said. "We've noticed that the level of intensity for mental health concerns changes during breaks over the summer or between the semesters."
- Financial stress. "Generally speaking, students are not in the most secure financial bracket," Stowe said. More than one-third of college students in the United States struggle to acquire basic needs such as food and housing, research from the American Psychological Association suggests.
- Transitional stress. The transition to adulthood is often stressful, Stowe noted.
- Social pressure. College students experience pressure from multiple sources, including their peers. "The social life, the pressures to drink or not drink, to use drugs or not use drugs—all of these things are difficult," Hotaling said.
How many college students struggle with mental health?
About 77 percent of students report experiencing moderate to serious psychological distress, according to a 2022 survey by the American College Health Association (ACHA).
The same survey also indicated that 35 percent of college students were diagnosed with anxiety, and 27 percent were diagnosed with depression.
If you experience issues with your mental health, do you know where to turn on campus?
Where can you go for on-campus health help?
Most schools offer a campus student health services center with primary healthcare, women's and psychiatric healthcare resources, as well as counseling. College students should expect to find some of the following health resources on campus.
Health services center
Most college campuses have an on-campus health services center staffed by physicians, nurses and other medical professionals. These facilities typically offer primary care services as well as specialty clinics such as gynecology, urgent care and sports medicine.
Many student health centers provide immunizations, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings, lab work and X-rays. Whether you have a student health plan or insurance coverage, ensure you know how to pay for your healthcare.
24/7 registered nurse advice hotline
Some universities offer students access to a nurse hotline, staffed 24 hours per day, every day of the year. Students who call the hotline can speak with registered nurses who can explain how to care for non-emergency illnesses or injuries and advise them about when to seek medical attention.
Many higher-education institutions provide a nutrition clinic staffed by registered dieticians. These experts may offer nutrition counseling, screening, referrals and eating disorder support services.
Student counseling center
Most college campuses in the U.S. have a student counseling center, Hotaling said. These centers may offer single-session and short-term counseling, group counseling, psychiatric services, specialty counseling and crisis support.
"Many campuses have a professional that can prescribe psychotropic medication," Hotaling said. "So if a student needs refills on a medication, they can meet with a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse practitioner."
Stowe's school, UAB, gives all students access to mental health resources in the form of workshops, student groups and web-based education platforms.
"Not everybody needs professional support," Stowe said. "Sometimes, students have mental health challenges that if they learn skills and emotion regulation skills, they can manage themselves."
UAB and many other colleges grant students unlimited use of Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), an online platform that offers self-guided mental health courses on topics such as stress management, social anxiety and post-breakup recovery.
"The majority of students that access that platform don't see a counselor and aren't involved in professional help, but they are learning about how to manage their stress and understand how their brain functions," Stowe said.
Office of Veterans Affairs
Many universities offer specialty mental and physical healthcare services geared toward veteran and military students. Veteran student services may include counseling from professionals who specialize in diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress, depression and sleep problems.
Services may also include assistance with VA healthcare enrollment, mental healthcare referrals and disability documentation, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
What should you know before visiting health services at your school?
Before they visit a health service center, students should be aware of any charges associated with services, including office visits, immunizations, testing and psychiatry.
These charges are typically 100 percent covered by student health insurance plans and may be partially covered by third-party insurance. When students use a parent's health insurance for other services, such as birth control, a parent could potentially view the purpose on an insurance statement.
Students who do not have health insurance may be charged a small, discounted fee to use college healthcare services.
Notably, many colleges and universities do not charge students for counseling services, including one-on-one sessions with a counselor. Contact your college healthcare center to learn more about fees and insurance.
What are good mental health activities for college students?
In addition to taking advantage of college counseling, students can protect their mental health by maintaining healthy habits. Stowe and Hotaling shared mental health tips for college students.
Prioritize sleep, movement and nutrition
Prioritizing basic needs—including sleep, movement and nutrition—is one of the best things students can do for their body and brain.
"Sleep, movement and nutrition impact mental health, mood, motivation and cognitive functioning," Stowe said.
Find your tribe
Stowe and Hotaling emphasized the value of a sense of connection and belonging with fellow students. To foster a sense of community, students should load up on extracurricular activities, according to Hotaling.
"Sign up for clubs, sign up for organizations," he said. "Many times, when people feel they have their tribe, they have that social support from their peers, it really helps."
The bottom line
The transition to college life can be thrilling but simultaneously challenging. If you are a student experiencing mental health issues, you are not alone.
Contact your college counseling center to find out what mental health resources are available.