College is a time of transition. Whether you’re in an undergraduate or graduate program, this is a dynamic experience for most students during which they are exploring, learning, and growing. However, we have seen a real need to address the mental health of college students. Stigma, lack of access, and an emphasis on success over one’s mental health has taken a toll on students. The ways in which our world has shifted dramatically the past few years due to the pandemic, social justice issues, financial crises, and other systemic issues has also contributed. Fortunately, mental health is getting positive attention finally, giving some of us needed permission and acceptance to attend to our mental well-being.
Therapy is similar to the college experience in that it is a process that facilitates exploring, learning and growing. Moreover, therapy provides a safe space to make sense of changes and experiences in our life while also gaining clarity about how we want to proceed. Therefore, therapy can be a beneficial and effective way of gaining objective support while you navigate the challenges you may encounter in college so you may grow intentionally.
What do College Students Go to Therapy For?
There are some changes and struggles in college that may lead you to therapy. In this blog we’ll cover some of these areas of change, and highlight why therapy can be helpful.
College is typically a time when we gain more independence and autonomy, especially from our loved ones we grew up with in our childhood. With increased freedom comes increased choices. Sometimes, we’re confronted with choices we’ve never had to make before. Or perhaps we’re confronted with the consequences of choices we’ve never dealt with previously. These new experiences can bring up topics such as self-awareness, boundaries, responsibility, and values, to name a few.
We also become more exposed to different people from different walks of life in college. This can broaden our sense of what’s possible in the world, reveal alternative ways of living, and offer a new perspective on our own life thus far.
While independence may encourage self-discovery, it may also present challenges as well. Perhaps self-discovery presents more questions than answers for you, or you find it jarring to live quite differently than how you experienced childhood. Maybe who you thought you were while growing up is changing and you’re not sure how to manage expectations of others or your own feelings about changing. Therapy can be a great tool not only for exploring these themes, but also feeling empowered about the changes you’re experiencing. While growth can be painful at times, therapy is designed to help you move through the pain of change in healthy ways and learn tools to do so successfully.
One word that I hear frequently from college students is stress. Many students experience stress from trying to manage courseloads, relationships, a social life, deadlines, working, self-care and finances. Over time, stress can lead to burnout if it isn’t adequately addressed. Burnout might lead to missing school and deadlines, withdrawing from classes or even an entire semester, or possibly from college all together.
Additionally, there are other topics college students might frequently struggle with. These include homesickness, concerns about making new friends, difficulty with adjusting to the new demands of college life and studies, questions regarding identity or sexual orientation, grief and loss, and relationship issues. Experimenting with and using substances, questions or decisions about sex, and sexual assault are also common mental health topics college students encounter.
It’s also common for college students to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, the APA (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/10/mental-health-campus-care) states 60% of students met criteria for a mental health issue during the 2020-2021 academic year. There are many reasons why this may be occurring. A family history of mental health concerns, increased demands on students, numerous losses and changes due to the pandemic, and social justice issues are some reasons. Sometimes anxiety and depression occur because there are new pressures and it’s challenging to start anew when we go to school. Or perhaps there was a history of anxiety and depression previous to college. Whatever the reason, therapy is an effective way to address symptoms of anxiety and depression because therapists are trained mental health professionals.
Your mental health can have profound impacts on your quality of life, and fortunately this topic seems to be more accepted, talked about, and embraced. Therapy can offer you support to explore, learn about, and identify useful coping strategies to best manage your mental health. It can also help you find ways to heal.
While college can be a time for exploration and self-discovery, it can also be a confusing time for some of us. Questions about career, finances, lifestyle, and relationships can weigh heavy when you’re uncertain and feel pressure to have things “figured out.” For some of us, we enter a program of study and find it is not what we thought. For others, we may feel our area of study is the right fit for us, but feel there are other areas of our life we would also like to develop and aren’t sure how. Or perhaps, you’re struggling to juggle a career and family while working towards completing your degree.
Certainly, finding best ways to balance all of your responsibilities while pursuing your dreams and goals for the future can be difficult at times. However, therapy can help you clarify your values, discover new ways of tackling challenges, and help you manage the uncertainties that arise in your experience. Coming up with a plan, especially if you know you’ll be looking for mental health support while attending college, is a wise approach.
College is an Ideal Time to Start (or Continue) Therapy
Many challenges and uncertainties may present themselves to you while you’re working towards your degree. However, therapy is a valuable approach to successfully addressing a variety of issues. Therapy can help you feel better equipped, empowered, and clear on your path forward. You can learn best ways to prioritize your mental well-being while continuing to pursue your goals.
At Vitality Therapeutic Services, we aim to do just that. We specialize in working with college students and would be honored to work alongside you. Sure, getting a degree can be a difficult task, but you don’t have to do it alone and you can put your best foot forward with some support. Contact us today to get started.
Photo credit: Photo by Zen Chung: https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-young-women-walkng-in-the-street-5538626/