Mental health has long been taboo in the United States and worldwide. However, as researchers learn more about mental health disorders and their outcomes, society is beginning to address mental health problems with more compassion and curiosity.
Many more people face mental health struggles than once thought, so mental health professionals and families have begun to realize that addressing these problems head-on and spreading awareness is one of the most important ways to mitigate them.
Though people of all ages experience mental health disorders and struggles, recent studies have focused on students. The overall takeaway from statistics on student mental health is that students experience mental health issues much earlier and in more significant numbers than anyone might expect or hope.
Understanding this truth and what it means for students is the first step toward changing their circumstances and improving outcomes. These three statistics may be shocking, but confronting student experiences can help us become resources for them.
1. About one in three first-year college students reported suffering from mental health disorders before college.
According to a 2018 World Health Organization survey, about one-third of students experience mental health disorders before they even arrive as freshmen in college. This means that students in their final years of high school face struggles with mental health that often go overlooked.
College can be a stressful experience, but in a society where getting into the right college feels essential, the years leading up to college are also stressful. High school students are under intense pressure to prepare for their futures earlier and earlier as college becomes more competitive and increasingly expensive.
Focusing on college students is essential, but students often need mental health initiatives sooner than college. Helping students manage mental health struggles earlier in high school could potentially help mitigate the effects of mental health disorders as they enter college and prevent more severe issues.
If you are a high school student experiencing mental health struggles, remember you have resources. Speak to an adult you trust, like a parent, guardian, coach, or counselor. Look at the NSHSS mental health awareness resource page, and remember: you are not alone.
2. 12% of college students reported having suicidal thoughts in 2021.
A study of college students from nearly 300 universities found that, from 2017 to 2018, about 12% of college students experienced suicidal ideation. This number came in at 10.8% in the general population, meaning college students have an increased risk.
Students reported suicidal thoughts as a result of a high-stress environment and increased feelings of anxiety, suggesting that college students are under a great deal of stress. Issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic concerns also contributed. Moreover, mental health issues increase among non-white student populations, and mental health struggles often go underreported.
With these truths, college students must know what resources are available. If you’re a college student and need help dealing with mental health struggles, your college or university should have mental health resources and counseling available.
If the situation is more dire, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), talk to trusted adults, and seek professional mental health assistance when needed.
3. 64% of college dropouts cite a mental health-related reason for leaving college.
Finally, a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) survey found that 64% of students who had dropped out of college cited mental health as a reason for leaving. The same study notes that 45% of these students did not report their mental health struggles before deciding to go to college.
This statistic is concerning since over half of students surveyed who left college did so due to mental health struggles, but many did not feel comfortable sharing those struggles with someone who might be able to help. The stress of college life can be overwhelming, but if you are struggling, know that you can always seek help. Asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness, nor a sign that college is not suitable for you.
For those of us who know college students, be sure to reach out and check in on them when possible and know the signs of mental health struggles.
Sometimes, the first step to treating major mental health crises is to raise awareness about just how pervasive mental health issues are. These statistics show that high school and college students struggle with mental health more than some might realize.
High schools and colleges need to continue to inform students about their mental health resources and ensure they are being taken care of as they navigate these stressful times.
If you are a student struggling with mental health, remember that you can always seek help. Meanwhile, finding ways to cope with mental health struggles now will help you form healthy habits as you continue into adulthood.
You are not alone, and you matter.
Check out our Mental Health Awareness Resources page here.