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Osborne: Ways to assist college students struggling with mental health challenges

College student

College students are struggling.

And now more than ever.

While we are openly learning how to cope with COVID-19, another pandemic is silently impacting our health with severe consequences, namely the mental health challenges that college students now see themselves saddled with.

The Mayo Clinic reports that 45% of all college students reported having suffered from either depression or anxiety while 30% of all students have reported feeling depressed in the past year.

The question arises: why are college students struggling so much?

Rigorous schedules with unattainable expectations set by family members or society have pushed these students too far. Being a Division 1 collegiate athlete myself, having classes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day with three hours of practice following that is already enough for one person to handle. Add on the copious amount of homework that college students receive with the need for at least eight hours of sleep, and we are left with no time for a social life. College students are continually burnt out by punishing schedules which will inevitably lead to mental health issues that they had never experienced before.

We live in a time where you are told that if you don’t perform well in college, you will not be able to get a job in our competitive capitalistic society. Straight out of high school, we are expected to choose a career path that we will follow for the next 40 odd years. Unrealistic expectations are just part of these young adult’s lives. No one has taken a step back to see how this could affect the mental health of these students.

There are steps that can be taken to ensure that this epidemic goes no further.

A good place for colleges to start would being with wellness centers. Wellness centers can be much less intimidating than counseling services and can still provide students with the education and support they need. Workshops and educational clinics at departmental levels can help to disseminate critical information.

Further, colleges need to place an emphasis on their mental health services. Educating students on where these services are located and how they can access them will make it easier for them to do so. More conversation surrounding mental health also helps to reduce the stigma, making it more inviting for someone to reach out. Hopefully, this will encourage those struggling to do so. On a personal level, students need education in how to maintain both good mental hygiene and stress management. Phone meditation apps can be a good place to start and can encourage students to set aside a few minutes each day to help deal with stress.

Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has not made things better. In the past year, more college students have reported shared anxiety and depression than in previous years. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports on data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, finding that 56% of young adults are reporting symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Fearful stories that the media has pushed out has made it hard for potentially already struggling students to keep their morale up.

With the always changing and unpredictable world that we live in, it’s important to take a step back and help those that are suffering whenever we can. That attention must focus on college students and the mental health crisis that seems to be always rising.

With the pandemic still on-going and college only getting more competitive we are at a crucial point to intervene and make sure that we are taking care of these students. They will be the future of our country, but that is only if we can support them through these times.

Osborne, a California native and a sophomore studying psychology at Virginia Military Institute, competes on the VMI women’s water polo team.

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