How College Culture Impacts Mental Health

Addressing the Mental Health Crisis Among College Students at SLU


As midterms approach, it is important to address an issue many college students struggle with: mental health. With the demands of heavy course loads and extracurriculars, it may seem like there is never enough time in the day. These factors, combined with additional stress from midterms, can cause a surge of tension and a decline in mental health. According to a Healthy Minds Study, during the 2020–2021 school year, over 60 percent of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, highlighting a 50 percent increase from 2013. Additionally, a study conducted by JAMA Network Open found that 53 percent of young adults who experienced a major depressive episode did not receive treatment.

 Despite this crisis, there still remains a stigma around mental health. An article in World Psychiatry highlights stereotypes surrounding people with mental illness labeling them as weak, incompetent and attention-seeking. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental illness as “a clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior.” This comes in the form of numerous mental health disorders, of which some are behavioral, cognitive, or mood related. Often, people define mental health as depressive episodes, but more often than not, mental health struggles present themselves differently. Problems sleeping, a loss of appetite, mood swings and detachment are all signs and symptoms of mental illness.

There is not one way that mental illness “looks” and as a society, we need to stop perpetuating these stereotypes. Mental illness also does not stem from one cause. Many factors can influence the onset of mental health symptoms, for example, genetics, trauma and long-term exposure to stress. Stigmas surrounding treatment remain rampant as well. Many experience hesitation to go to therapy, often out of fear of judgment. Others don’t want to admit they need help. There is also a common misconception that medication changes the way an individual acts. In reality, certain medication helps correct neurochemical imbalances. Therapy allows individuals to come to terms with their life experiences while creating room to positively cope with any emotions they may experience. In order to overcome this, society needs to change the dialogue around mental health, which starts with educating ourselves.

   This academic year, SLU has shown commitment to student mental health by granting students days off. Upon canceling classes, the university organizes different events, such as yoga, for students to attend. Drop-in counseling support is also made available throughout the day in various locations on campus. Despite these days being dedicated to self-care, they often don’t feel like relaxing days. Professors use these days to assign students more work in order to make up for the loss of a lecture day or use the day as a study day for an exam on the following day. These designated days aren’t truly respected for their worth as students spend the day focusing on schoolwork. In addition, while a day off in recognition of students is a start, it doesn’t address the root of the problem. A day off doesn’t address the mental struggles that are all too common in students or the lack of support that students receive in advocating for their mental well-being.  As we approach a year since the tragic deaths of SLU students, our community continues to grieve the loss of these beloved classmates, peers and friends. We honor them by continuing to advocate for those with mental illness and by having open conversations. 

   On campus, we still haven’t seen the needed change we deserve. What we really need is a change in the dynamic of college culture. University students experience constant levels of stress highlighted by neverending assignments, tests and papers in classes. Students never truly get a break until the semester ends. If a student misses a day of class, there are professors who won’t accept mental health as an excused absence. During long weekends and holiday breaks, students continue to have assignments. While it’s unreasonable to ask professors to stop assigning work, we need to shift the mindset of what college life should be. Students shouldn’t have to feel as though they constantly have something to work on and need to sacrifice an hour of sleep, a meal or their free time to be successful. Nor should students base their worth on their academic success. There needs to be a balance between working and relaxing. This starts with the faculty and staff at SLU. Part of SLU’s identity is that of cura personalis which is educating and caring for the whole person: mind, body and soul. Encouraging students to take time for themselves and actively giving them the chance to, even if it means reducing the reading for one night or extending one deadline would be helpful. Students shouldn’t fear speaking to their professors about extra help that would in turn benefit their mental health. Faculty and staff at SLU need to do more than offer words of sympathy and instead participate in conversations that address the needs of students. Providing students with necessary resources and doing what we can to support them as a community highlights a necessary shift we need to implement.

  As we await further change on campus, we must continue to advocate for ourselves and others. I encourage everyone to listen to your bodies and your needs, check on your friends and find ways to cope with the stress of it all. Find the help you need because you matter.