Did you know that the second leading cause of death in people ages 15-22 is suicide (ACHA, 2020)? Those are some sobering statistics. After a recent move from S CA to N Ca, I am currently serving in a new role in which I am the Lead Counselor on a college campus for this age range. Unfortunately, those statistics don’t lie. I am deeply involved in creating new programs, strategies, and direct clinical support for the students my campus serves as relates to suicide prevention and wellness strategies. In my research, I have found the following to be true:
- According to the EAB firm (2019) analysis, an uptick in demand for counseling services on college campuses has skyrocketed due to three pressing demands: 1) changing social norms (increased awareness, early response frameworks, and reduced stigma), 2) shifting demographics (increased concerns, higher expectations of support, and new parenting styles), and 3) external pressures (social media, intensified expectations, and political climate), (EAB, 2019).
- As well, we know that rates of depression and anxiety have increased exponentially for teens and young adults in the last decade, as seen with various statistics from several studies NIMH, 2019).
As a mental health counselor in a university setting, I have learned the following tips (in addition to more) that can be helpful in supporting students as they transition to being college age adults:
- Teach resiliency across campus departments. Embed mental health and wellness in the curriculum (life skills classes, mindfulness meditation/yoga/stress reduction classes).
- Continue the quest to de-stigmatize counseling and access to mental health services. Educate students that mental health is critical and intertwined with physical health.
- Provide evidence-based counseling that proactively supports early intervention for signs of depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief/loss, trauma, etc.
- Provide training to campus personnel (as a campus-wide solution to reducing suicidal ideation) in mental health first aid or other programs in which staff/faculty can identify the signs of at risk students and refer them to the proper support.
- Provide opportunities for social connection, community, and fun. Academics and adjusting to college life is all consuming for many students. Some may also be holding down a job or two, supporting families, and other commitments. It’s vital to students to have social supports in place, as well as scheduled periods of “non-productivity” in order to replenish one’s reserves. Studies also show that students who are isolated have increased rates of depression (Mathews, 2016).
Some simple strategies for good brain health include:
- Get good sleep. We need at least 5 consecutive hours of sleep for a full sleep cycle to assist with maintaining serotonin levels in the brain.
- Make sure you are getting adequate nutrition. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can create symptoms of depression/anxiety.
- Exercise. A natural mood-booster.
- See a counselor. Depression and anxiety are treatable and temporary with compassionate and competent support/interventions.
- Consider medication management if symptoms are severe (i.e. persistent suicidal thoughts)
- Expand connections and friendships. Increased social supports reduce isolation and in turn, helps to prevent depression/anxiety.
- Immerse yourself in nature. Studies say we are nature-deprived. A simple hike in nature is good for brain/body health.
- Learn mindfulness/relaxation strategies. Yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation
- Practice life skills like time management and boundary setting. Take a class on these topics if your school offers them.
- Develop pathways of joy and pleasure (hobbies, interests outside of academics). By doing so, you have a diverse pool of activities to help with mood health.
- Be careful with alcohol and drug use. Many of these substances are depressants and can make a mood disorder or anxiety even worse. See a counselor if you think you have a substance use problem.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273 -TALK (8255)
Matthews T, Danese A, Wertz J, et al. Social isolation, loneliness and depression in young adulthood: a behavioural genetic analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2016;51(3):339–348. doi:10.1007/s00127-016-1178-7
Retrieved from: February 6, 2020: https://www.acha.org/ACHA/Resources/Topics/MentalHealth.aspx
Retrieved from: February 6, 2020: https://eab.com/research-and-insights/
Retrieved from: February 6, 2020: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/index.shtml