• Nearly 90% of college students believe that colleges and universities are facing a mental health crisis.
  • By prioritizing their mental health, students can give themselves the best chance of coping with academic pressure and preventing burnout.
  • Wellness plans, green spaces and therapy dogs are some ways in which college students can take care of their mental health.

Nearly 70% of college students say they are experiencing emotional distress or anxiety related to the pandemic. That’s according to a January 2022 survey that also found nearly 9 out of every 10 college students believe U.S. colleges and universities are facing a mental health crisis.

Below are five articles from the archives of The Conversation that highlight tips for college students to take better care of their mental health.

1. Prioritize your mental health

When students do poorly in a class due to mental health issues, occasionally they might seek a medical exception that can withdraw them from the class instead of failing it. But students who get this exception often fail to seek the actual help they need to deal with the mental health issue that led them to do poorly in the first place.

That’s according to Nicholas Joyce, a psychologist at the University of South Florida.

“In my experience, many students who get the medical exception return the next semester without addressing their mental health needs and end up failing more courses,” writes Joyce.

Joyce recommends four ways college students can avoid having to seek a medical exception in the first place.

2. Seek campuses designed to boost your mood

When selecting a college to attend, students should look at whether the campus design benefits their mental health.

Two scholars from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois – Carly Drake, assistant professor of marketing, and Diane Bruce Anstine, Dean of the school of business and entrepreneurship – write about five campus design features that benefit students’ mental health.

“Campus design affects the college experience, and students can choose a campus or change their existing routines to support their mental health,” they write. “Such consideration is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when new rules and norms have left many students more anxious and depressed than normal.”

Aerial photograph of the University of Utah, with campus buildings and green spaces.
Green spaces on college campuses can boost your mood and alleviate stress.
Image: UNSPLASH/Parker Gibbons

3. Make a wellness plan

Before students even set foot on campus, they should develop a wellness plan to help them avoid major emotional distress. That’s according to Sandra M. Chafouleas, professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut, who details what every student’s wellness plan should include.

“… personal wellness plans must be customized to meet each individual student’s own needs,” she writes. “And I believe that since it is unclear whether new college students will be on physical campuses this fall or learning online, these plans are more important than ever.”

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes - promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

4. Avoid academic burnout

When college students suffer from burnout, it often leads them to experience feelings of isolation, low accomplishment and depression.

Ryan Korstange, assistant professor of university studies at Middle Tennessee State University, writes about five tips on how college students can avoid exhaustion.

“The most effective way of preventing burnout is being sure you know why you’re in college to begin with,” he writes. “Build your internal motivation by identifying the skills you need to develop and the experiences you want to have while you are in college.”

Brown long-coated dog wearing a black and red 'therapy dog' harness
62% of colleges have dog therapy programs, according to one survey.
Image: UNSPLASH/Ryan Stone

5. Spend time with a therapy dog

Research has shown that spending just 10 minutes with a therapy dog can reduce college students’ stress levels. That’s why Christine Kivlen, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Wayne State University, recommends students seek out therapy dog programs on campus. Kivlen writes about the calming effects of spending time with a therapy dog.

“Among other benefits, therapy dogs can help students achieve a stronger sense of belonging and better deal with being homesick and lonely, while also lessening their anxiety and stress.”