College Students and Mental Health: Severe Anxiety Becoming the Norm?

The Glamorization of College-Life and the University Experience

Long after college, many people are inclined to glamorize their college experience, recalling the thrill of learning, endless social opportunities, and late-night gatherings that blend together in an idyllic re-imagining of their campus experience.


But the pressures of academia: social, financial, and academic, have created a hothouse of mental health concerns, with anxiety leading the way.  Estimates from the ACHA (American College Health Association) indicate that nearly one-in-six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety. And according to the CCMH (Center for Collegiate Mental Health) at Penn State, 50% of students who report mental health problems cite anxiety as their main concern.

The CCMH also notes that among students who sought out counseling services in 2015, a shocking 32% seriously considered suicide.

Awareness of Mental Health Problems in Academia

High profile tragedies like the shootings and suicide at Virginia Tech have increased the awareness of providing mental health counseling and services for students, but demand for services often presents too much of a case load for resource-constrained universities and colleges.  There is also what can be termed “shadow” demand, that can describe students—often at the graduate level–who are working themselves into a state of physical and mental distress, and do not seek out help due to a fear that they will be derided by their colleagues.

Conditions Contributing to Anxiety

Like medical students (whose plight was addressed in one of my previous blogs,) there is sadly a culture of acceptance among peers and superiors with regard to students who are patently suffering.  A study performed by the ACHA found that a mere 12% of students suffering from anxiety and depression went to counseling.

Anxiety has recently surpassed depression as the most commonly cited mental health concern among college students, with greater than 50% of the student population experiencing problems.  Elements contributing to anxiety include overprotective parents, academic pressure, and omnipresent social media.  The last factor has become highly problematic, with many students abusing social media with detrimental mental health consequences.


NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health and Illness) has put together a guidebook for students and parents that identify the warning signs for anxiety and other potential mental health problems.  Some campuses, like the University of Michigan, have organized programs such as the “Mental Health Monologues” where students can share their experiences.  In a large population like a college campus, it can be comforting simply to know that there are other people who share your challenges, whether it is Obsessive Compulsive disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is clear that many campuses need to add counselors to establish the IACS (International Association of Counseling Services) recommendation for a ratio of one full-time counselor/1000 population.  A survey of satellite campuses of the University of Minnesota noted waits of two weeks or more to see a counselor at its Crookston campus.  Without understanding the severity of a student’s problem, waiting can be a risky proposition and can potentially jeopardize a student’s life.

Incipient anxiety and other potential problems relating to mental health can be addressed and resolved by working with a qualified mental health professional who can provide the proper balance of talk therapy and other modalities to ensure that students get the most out of their academic experience.

For additional information, please feel free to email our office at   To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.

Be Well,

Dr. Amanda Itzkoff

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