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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Mental Health Concerns and College Students: 17 Signs


There is no denying mental illness continues to be an ongoing challenge for a lot of people, both young and old. It is neither an exaggeration nor is it alarmist to claim that there is a mental health crisis today facing America’s college students. Evidence suggests that this group has greater levels of stress and psychopathology than any time in the nation’s history. Most people have become disheartened by the negative images depicted on the news as well as social media. The images are particularly upsetting because they show an increase rather than decrease in violence among different racial groups, cultures, religions, and sexual orientation. In a country that was initially touted as the melting pot of the world, images that even suggest intolerance can be extremely difficult to comprehend, which can create additional stressors for young adults that are starting the process of engaging with the world not as children, but as adults. Entering college is usually a time of optimism, self-exploration, and new found freedom. However, as previously stated, current college students are experiencing challenges unlike college students of the past. This is due in part to the rising tension in the world, which has been associated with racial, cultural, religious, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic conflict.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge academic “unreadiness” also plays a significant role in student under performance, low self-esteem, and failure to thrive in college. Inadequate study habits create enormous stress and anxiety for college students. Previous studies conducted on college students and mental health show a positive correlation to retention and academic performance.  University and college academic advisors find that mental health issues/challenges often interfere with student success more than ever before. Today, a lot of faculty and staff members note that complex and even clinical issues are more prevalent among the students they teach and advise.  Recent studies conducted on the topic confirm that a rising as well as an alarming number of students are coping with depression, anxiety, and other major mental health challenges. College counseling centers across the country report increased frequency and severity of students’ mental health concerns. Today’s students are struggling with the challenges of cross-cultural issues, racial/religious/cultural/sexual orientation conflict, familial dysfunction, reduced frustration tolerance, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and weak/non-existent interpersonal attachments.

Unlike, high school, and middle school aged children, college students are expected to make their own individual choices, become accountable for their actions, and begin the process of building a life for themselves that does not include being dependent upon their parents for decision making, financial support,

17 Common Characteristics of Student Distress Include:

·         Excessive procrastination

·         Incomplete or missing assignments

·         Distracted behavior

·         Decrease in the quality of work

·         Reduction in academic performance

·         Sleeping/listlessness in class

·         Changes in behavior, i.e., isolating, irritability, confusion, avoidant, etc.

·         Cognition and memory changes

·         Changes in appearance, i.e., usually neat and clean in appearance but ADL’s appear to be declining

·         Chronic absenteeism from class

·         Flat affect (failure to show emotions)

·         Failure to respond or inconsistent responses to academic notice

·          Impaired speech or disjointed thoughts

·         Threats regarding self or others

·         Unable to describe own emotions

·         Too frequent office visits (dependency)

·         Increased sadness or periods of excessive crying

One of the defining features of the traditional college experience is leaving the nest, living life on his or her own terms. However, many college students are having trouble carving out their own personal identity. College is a very big change for most students, students have gone from depending on their parents to make the decisions in the household, ensuring all of their basic and financial needs were being met, to facing new adult roles, responsibilities, and accountability as a newly minted adult. The consequences for students who struggle to make decisions and manage their lives can be severe, promoting an increase negative symptoms and frustration. Poor performance can lead to negative academic repercussions, such as, under performance, academic probation, academic dismissal, and a decrease in the number of employment opportunities.

Fortunately, many colleges and universities recognize the need and importance of mental health services for college students. Once, a need for services has been established, faculty and staff are encouraged to reach out to campus mental health counselors or community based services for help. Staff and faculty are encouraged to express their student concerns, make a referral for services, and follow up to ensure contact was made with the student. General comments regarding a student’s change in academic performance, motivation, mood, appearance, etc., should be conveyed as reasons for student concern at the time of the referral.

Mental Health Concerns and College Students: 17 Signs

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2017). Mental Health Concerns and College Students: 17 Signs. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Jan 2017
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