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Most College Campuses are Missing Out on This Resource to Help Their Students Thrive

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Occupational therapy may be an essential resource for college students as they navigate the complex transition, helping to them to create health-promoting habits, while alleviating the mental health crisis along the way.

Stress and anxiety are more prevalent than ever before in college students across the nation. While there are mental health counselors available on every campus, there are not nearly enough to meet the increasing demands of their students. Among mental health concerns, students are also experiencing associated maladaptive health behavior patterns such as unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, insufficient sleep, and substance use -- all of which have cyclical and spiraling negative impacts on wellbeing. In combination, these mental health stressors and maladaptive behaviors are not only negatively impacting health and wellbeing, they are also negatively impacting academic and occupational participation and performance.

College Student Statistics

Each year, college students across the US are surveyed using the National College Health Assessment to gather insight on students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions. The following data provides an brief snapshot of the Spring 2019 American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment overviewing college students' experiences related to mental health, sleep and fatigue, and academic performance:

Over half of the students surveyed:

  • Felt hopeless in the past 12 months

  • Felt overwhelmed in the past two weeks

  • Felt more than average to tremendous stress within the past 12 months

  • Felt exhausted (not due to exercise) in the past two weeks

  • Reported three or less days per week of getting enough sleep that they felt rested in the morning

  • Reported academics have been traumatic or very difficult to handle in the past 12 months

Nearly half of students surveyed:

  • Felt so depressed it was difficult to function in the past two weeks

  • Reported sleepiness during daytime activities was more than a little problem

Over a quarter of students surveyed:

  • Felt overwhelming anxiety in the past two weeks

  • Reported sleep difficulties have been traumatic or very difficult to handle in the past 12 months

Additionally, the top reported factors affecting academic performance in the past 12 months were stress (34.2%), anxiety (27.8%), sleep difficulties (22.4%), and depression (20.2%).

This begs the questions: Who is teaching students effective stress management and sleep hygiene strategies? Who is helping students integrate essential skills into their daily routines so they can be successful in and out of the classroom? In the same Spring 2019 report, here's how the students responded:

  • Over three-quarters of students reported not receiving information from their college or university on sleep difficulties, and nearly equal amounts are interested

  • Over a third of students reported not receiving information from their college or university on stress reduction or depression/anxiety, and a majority are interested

It is clear that many students are not accessing or receiving information related to basic health and wellbeing. Part of the issue may be due to the limited resources available, the mental health stigma, or lack of knowledge of available resources.

While many colleges and universities have began implementing wellness programs on a systemic level, there still remains an inherent issue when it comes to such generalized health-promotion: one size does not fit all. What works for one individual may not be the best solution for another, and rarely do universities and colleges offer professional, individualized services to their students to successfully take on increasing academic demands while managing newly acquired independence away from home.

In addition to mental health providers, students also need access to healthcare professionals who can address all areas of wellness at the individual level to ensure successful participation in academics and daily life, helping students create healthy, sustainable lifestyles throughout college and beyond graduation.