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Fostering College Student Mental Health and Resilience

  • August 15, 2023
  • Healthy living for mental well-being, Patients and Families, Teens and young adults

College student mental health has been the focus of much attention in recent years. Mental health is integral to student success and mental health concerns among college students are an ongoing and systemic problem; not just a consequence of the pandemic.

  • 73% of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress in 2021, according to the National College Health Assessment
  • 60% of college students reported experiencing one or more mental health challenges in 2021, according to the National Healthy Minds Study(.pdf).
  • The percentage of students experiencing mental health problems has increased nearly 50% since 2013.

Students are affected by a range of stressors and challenges, including academic pressure, balancing obligations, social pressures, and more global/societal concerns. A recent survey found that more than half of Gen Zers (teens and young adults aged 14 to 25) experience mental health impacts related to concerns about gun violence and climate change. Another recent survey of college students finds that more than half (56%) of students have experienced chronic stress (a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time) in college. Chronic stress is linked to a range of mental and physical health problems.

Given the extent of the mental health concerns among college students, access to services and use of services is important. A recent national survey of college students found that, among students with a mental health condition, about 50% have not accessed any mental health services. Among all students, about one in four have used on-campus counseling, 12% have used telecounseling, 10% received referrals to off-campus therapists, and 6% have used a mental health hotline and urgent counseling. About two-thirds of students have not accessed any campus resources.

Increasing Student Access to Mental Health Services

Researcher Brett R. Harris, University at Albany School of Public Health, and colleagues offer a set of universal recommendations for increasing college students’ access to and use of mental health services. They note that while each campus is unique, they have developed universal recommendations “based on their experience working with colleges and universities across New York State to help change campus culture and increase uptake and usage of services. Their recommendations include:

  • Start the conversation on mental health and increase ommunication. Increasing the conversation around mental health is a first step to reducing stigma.
  • Make mental health promotion and puicide prevention a campus‑wide effort.
  • Involve students, faculty, and staff in the development and implementation of mental health campaigns, services, resources, and supports.
  • Don’t just make training available: Integrate training into academics and student life and follow‑up with resources and support. Mental health or suicide prevention training should become a part of the set of annual trainings required for faculty and staff.
  • Make sure information about services and supports Is readily available and communicated to students.
  • Assess the needs of students and take a staged approach to meet their needs. For example, screening and assessment can be conducted for all students at the beginning of the semester via online survey or in college health and counseling centers.
  • Collaborate with outside organizations and the community. Active collaboration with external organizations and the outside community may help to expand upon limited resources.

The authors also suggest that efforts need to go beyond mental health services in college counseling centers and involve a multipronged, public health approach with buy-in, support, input, and participation of key stakeholders.

Working with Peer Leaders to Promote Wellness and Resilience

A wellness program developed by the Radical Hope Foundation is working to boost student resilience and promote wellness with the help of student leaders. It will be in place in more than 30 college campuses this fall. The RADical Health program works to empower students and equip them with knowledge and coping skills to stay well and stay resilient. During the four-week program students work in small groups with the support of peer leaders or faculty guides to explore themes including

  • Staying well, staying resilient (building resilience).
  • Connecting with others (strengthening emotional intelligence).
  • Empowering yourself (examining principles and priorities).
  • Engaging with the world (looking at’ Where do I go from here?’).

Students hear from notable figures in sports, entertainment, and business and participate in group discussions about the program themes, student life experiences and other aspects of their lives. Student Mental Wellness Tips for Thriving on Campus this Fall Students can be proactive in promoting their own mental wellness on a college campus.

  • Familiarize yourself with mental health and wellness services offered on campus.
  • Check that your health insurance will cover medical and mental healthcare in the area in which you are attending college.
  • Look for ways to connect with others on campus. Join a campus organization.
  • Communicate with your instructors about your needs.
  • Prioritize sleep and a healthy diet. You may be tempted to grab easy not-so-healthy snacks or meals or to forgo sleep to study, but doing so will only make it harder to concentrate, learn and be productive.

More information on college student mental health:


  1. Harris, B. R., Maher, B. M., & Wentworth, L. (2022). Optimizing Efforts to Promote Mental Health on College and University Campuses: Recommendations to Facilitate Usage of Services, Resources, and Supports. The journal of behavioral health services & research, 49(2), 252–258.
  2. Flaherty, C. 2023. Student Health and Wellness Survey: The Top 10 Takeaways. Inside Higher Ed.

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