Office of Student Life

Understanding Mental Health Challenges

The majority of people who have a mental illness do not die by suicide. However, those who do kill themselves, more than 90 percent have experienced some form of mental illness. The mental illness alone does not lead to suicidal behavior. The distress associated with a mental illness in conjunction with overwhelming life circumstances may result in suicidal feelings and behaviors.

Those with diagnosable mood disorders, such as major depression and bipolar disorder, are at higher risk for suicide. People with psychiatric disorders that co-occur with depression (e.g., schizophrenia, anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, some personality disorders, and substance abuse disorders) are also susceptible to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

It is important to understand the links between mental illness and stress. Stress is a normal part of life and people deal with their stress in different ways. However, when stress becomes persistent, overwhelming and disrupts life in a significant way, it can interfere with mental health and well-being.

Talk to someone. Let friends, family, or a doctor know you’re feeling overwhelmed, and tell them how they can help.

Some guidelines for recognizing and managing


College is a time of transitions – leaving home, new responsibilities, new social, academic and financial pressures – all at a time when the support systems students had at home are not as accessible as they once were. Routines for sleeping, eating, exercise and alcohol use are also drastically different.

Amidst all of these changes, students are expected to make important and difficult decisions about their futures after graduation.

Some degree of stress is normal in times of change and transition. But for some students, it can become overwhelming. Not surprisingly, research shows that stress can contribute to the development of depression and other mental illnesses.

Some indications of stress include:

  • Digestive problems
  • Frequent headaches
  • Tense muscles
  • Clenched jaw or teeth grinding
  • Getting sick more frequently than unusual
  • Skin problems
  • Fast or racing heartbeat
  • Excess sweating
  • Nervousness, restlessness
  • Irritability, quick temper
  • Problems concentrating
  • Anxious thoughts



All college students experience stressful times. When feelings of stress are constant and are causing problems in daily life, an anxiety disorder can develop. Only a doctor or a mental health professional can diagnose an anxiety disorder, but it is important to recognize any changes in thoughts, behavior or general health. For example:

  • Nervousness
  • Feeling restless or ‘on edge’
  • Easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Feelings of uneasiness, fear, or dread
  • Irritability
  • Excessive worry
  • Fatigue insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Repetitive behaviors (e.g. checking, counting, washing)
  • Avoiding activities

If you (or a friend) experience any of these changes, you should make an appointment for an evaluation. Awareness of your stress levels and how it affects your overall health is a good first step in managing its negative effects. Seeking help and possible treatment is essential if stress is creating problems in your everyday life.


College is sometimes called “the age of depression.” Why? Research shows that the peak years for the onset of depressive symptoms begins in the early teens and increases through the mid-20s. Of the more than 20 million Americans who experience depression each year, many develop their first symptoms just before or during college. In fact, a significant number of students arrive at college already diagnosed with depression – 10 percent according to a study from the American College Health Association.

Students with clinical depression generally function well in the college environment, but under times of great stress, they may experience a recurrence of symptoms that can worsen with time. This is complicated by the fact that some students with depression will go off treatments when they arrive at college because they want to “fit in.”

Untreated depression can have many consequences for students. It often results in poor academic performance, alcohol and drug abuse, relationship problems and greater risk for other health problems. Also, depression is often a chronic, episodic illness. A person who suffers from depression usually experiences repeated bouts. The longer depression goes untreated, the more severe and frequent these episodes become. And most importantly, depression is the No. 1 risk factor for suicide.

Fortunately, it is possible to prevent these consequences. We know from research that early detection and treatment of depression offer a greater chance for recovery. The earlier the treatment, the less likely depression will become chronic.

So Do You Have Depression?

Only a doctor or a mental health professional can tell you for sure, but if your thoughts, behavior or general health have changed in the following ways, you should make an appointment for an evaluation:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, empty
  • Feeling irritable or angry
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Feeling tired all of the time
  • Feeling anxious or restless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Experiencing changes in sleeping habits or eating habits
  • Experiencing aches or pains not associate with a recent injury or illness
  • Thinking of suicide


If you (or a friend) are experience one or more of the changes above, you should consider finding ways to manage your stress more effectively. For self-help, refer to Counseling & Consultation Service and Student Wellness Center. Or seek help from local and national mental health resources.

If you are thinking of harming yourself or need a safe, non-judgmental place to talk, call 988

For hearing and speech impaired with TTY equipment – Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255