College Health: Mental Health Issues

Young women's version of this guide

african college student outdoors

How can I develop a healthy social life at college?

Definitely keep in touch with friends and family from home, but make sure you develop new friendships at school. You’ll probably meet friends at orientation, in the first few days of school, in your classes, at social events, in the cafeteria, in clubs or sports, and through other friends. Don’t worry if it takes a while to find friends—it will happen. Your roommate(s) may become a good friend(s), or you may not click with them. You should talk to your roommate(s) as soon as possible about issues such as cleaning, bedtimes, music, and visitors/guests so that you avoid problems later on. If you’re having problems getting along with your roommate(s), talk to your RA (resident advisor).

What if I’m under a lot of stress?

Chances are you’ll probably feel stressed at some point while you’re at college. College is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. You may be on your own for the first time in your life, and/or dealing with issues without your family and friends from home. This can be tough. If you’re stressed, you may feel really tired, have a headache, have trouble sleeping, have trouble concentrating, and/or feel nervous, among many other symptoms.

Is there anything that I can do to deal with the stress?

Yes. Some ways to deal with stress are to consume less caffeine, follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, spend less time using handheld devices, and get enough sleep. Also, make sure that you do something you enjoy every day. The key is to balance classes and schoolwork with friends and having fun. Try to have a positive outlook, and don’t forget to have a sense of humor!

What do I do if I’m feeling down?

There are days that you will feel down, especially when the demands of college get to you. These feelings are normal and will go away. At these times, you should take a break from the pressures of college and do something you enjoy. Spend time with friends, exercise, read a good book, listen to music, watch a movie, call a friend, talk to your family, or anything else that makes you feel good. If it doesn’t go away in 2 weeks or keeps coming back, you should talk to a counselor in the health services/center. They see lots of students who are anxious, stressed or depressed at college.

What if it’s more serious than feeling down—am I depressed?

Sometimes, feeling down can get more serious and you can become depressed. However, depression can be treated. If you’ve had thoughts of suicide, of harming others, or if you have had any of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or more, see a counselor at your student health center right away:

  • Sad mood
  • Not enjoying things that you normally enjoy
  • Sleeping problems (you sleep too much or too little)
  • Being really tired, not able to concentrate, having very little energy
  • Eating problems (you eat too much or too little)
  • Feeling that you are worthless and there’s no hope
  • Physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, or body aches) that don’t get better even after you try to treat them

Don’t try to deal with depression on your own. See a counselor! Also, if you have any friends who you think may be depressed, suggest that they see a counselor as soon as possible.


Is it normal to feel homesick at college?

The first couple of weeks at college may seem great, but as the weeks continue and homework begins to pick up the thrill of being away from home can get old. It’s typical to ask yourself “am I really happy here?” It’s normal to have mixed feelings about college life and yes, it’s perfectly normal to miss your family, friends, and home. Learning ways to cope with these feelings will help you move on so you can get the most out of your college experience.

Getting used to roommates: You may or may not have had to share a room with a sibling while you were living at home, but having one or more roommates at college is a very different experience. Even if you become friends with your roommate(s), there still may be times where you feel like you have to negotiate. If you’ve tried your best to communicate with your roommate and you’re still feeling frustrated, don’t hesitate to contact your Resident Director (RD) or Resident Advisor (RA) to schedule a private meeting. It’s important to know that college campuses offer a wide variety of resources to help you solve even the smallest problem, such as mediation, or a room transfer. The environment at college should feel safe and comfortable.

Making new friends: It’s completely normal to miss your friends from home, especially the ones you’ve known since you were little! However, college is the perfect place to meet lots of new people and develop new and exciting relationships. If you’re wondering how to meet people, college orientation is the perfect start, because everyone is new – just like you. During orientation you’ll probably be encouraged to participate in ice breaker activities that will help you get to know your fellow classmates. Once you get settled, try joining a club, a team sport, volunteering, or getting involved on campus. Colleges and universities both big and small offer a wide range of activities and clubs similar to those in high school.

Adjusting to your new surroundings: It’s important to understand that by going home every weekend (if you live close), or as often as you can, (if you live farther away) can make it even harder to overcome feeling homesick. Instead of making the trip home, try inviting a family member or friend for a visit. Get to know the town you’re living in and show off your new surroundings by taking your family or friends out for a sightseeing trip, a sports event, or a day trip to a surrounding city.

Some students who go to college live at home. This can create a greater challenge for making friends and fitting into your college environment. If you commute to college, remember that you can participate in all campus groups and clubs as well as make friends with students in your classes.

Other things you can do to that will help you stop the urge to go home:

  • Keep busy and fill your weekends with fun activities that are offered by your school.
  • Look forward to long weekends or vacations when you can go home for an extended amount of time.
  • Remember that in the grand scheme of things, spending time away will make you appreciate your hometown and family more than you might imagine.

Making your dorm feel like home: Your home away from home should feel cozy and comfortable. Although you probably won’t be able to paint your room, you can decorate it. Try putting up your favorite posters and pictures that remind you of friends and family. You’ll probably be spending lots of time in your room, so also make sure the environment is clean, calm, and relaxing.

Cooking your own “family” meals: You might be used to having your meals cooked for you, and you might miss the feeling of sitting down to dinner with your family every night. However, many dorms or resident halls have small kitchens for students to use. You can learn how to make some of your favorite home-cooked dinners and create a meal for your friends. You can invite a group of people and make a weekly or monthly tradition to have “family dinners”. This is a great way to get out of the dining hall and enjoy a home cooked meal with others.

Staying in touch with friends and family: Since it’s relatively easy to communicate, take comfort in knowing that your loved ones are only a phone call, e-mail, or text message away. It’s a good idea to talk with your family before you leave school about how often they expect to be in touch with you; make sure you agree on the amount of contact and who should initiate it. Try to set aside at least one day a week to call home, Face Time, Skype, Zoom, or video chat. If you can’t see your friends and family face-to-face, a simple “Thinking of you!”, or “Let’s catch up this week” message lets them know that you care, and that you’d love to talk with them. Because staying in touch with family is so easy these days, some college students are tempted to text with parents daily or several times a day. Remember that being at college is a good time to try making decisions by yourself or with help from advisors, other students, and friends.

It’s also good to remember that your parents likely miss you a lot and want to hear from you. Sometimes parents may contact you at times that are not convenient for you. Let them know when and what kind of contact you prefer.

Take advantage of the resources your college or university offers. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed that you’re missing home because you’re not alone! Find someone you can trust and feel comfortable talking to – whether it’s a friend, RA, professor, or counselor. The feeling of missing home will pass with time. Don’t be surprised if you find out that you miss college when you’re home on school breaks!

Eating Disorders

What should I know about eating disorders?

Eating disorders are mental health illnesses that involve emotional and behavioral disturbance surrounding weight and food issues. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and extreme weight loss either through restriction, over-exercising, or through bingeing and purging. Starvation can cause harm to vital organs such as the heart and brain, can cause nails, hair, and bones to become brittle, and can make the skin dry and sometimes yellow or covered with soft hair. In females, menstrual periods can become irregular or stop completely.

What is bulimia nervosa?

People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food within a two-hour period of time (also called bingeing) at least two times a week and then vomit (also called purging), use laxatives or diet pills, or exercise compulsively. They feel out of control while eating, as though they cannot stop eating. Because many people who “binge and purge” maintain their body weight, they may keep their problem a secret for years. Vomiting can cause loss of important minerals, life-threatening heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), damage to the teeth, and swelling of the throat. Bulimia can also cause irregular menstrual periods.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

People who binge without purging also have a disorder called Binge Eating Disorder. This is frequently associated with feelings of loss of control and shame surrounding eating. People who are diagnosed with this disorder may gain weight depending on how often they binge eat, and many will have all of the consequences of being overweight including: high blood pressure and other cardiac symptoms, diabetes, and musculoskeletal complaints.

What if I think my roommate, classmate, or friend might have an eating disorder?

If you know someone with an eating disorder, the best thing you can do is give them support and encouragement. Urge the person to get help, and be persistent. Many colleges have treatment programs for these conditions and trained counselors who can relate to people with an eating disorder. They can help the person with an eating disorder understand her/his problem.

What if I think I might have an eating disorder?

If you think you might have an eating disorder, you should go to the student health center or counseling center and get help! Talk with your family and close friends. Going for help and talking to others about your feelings and illness can be very difficult, but it’s the best way to get better.


You’ll encounter alcohol and drinking while you are at college. Some students drink a lot because it is the first time there are no parents/guardians around to monitor their drinking. Using alcohol or other substances may have consequences and some risks are listed below. On the other hand, if you don’t like being around people who are drinking, there are many people at college who don’t drink or use drugs. Some students prefer doing activities that don’t involve drinking, such as going to a movie or a play, going out to eat, or participating indifferent clubs and athletic events. Many schools also have “dry dorms” for students who don’t drink or use drugs and don’t want to be around others who do. Before you make any decisions about drinking, know the risks.

Some of the risks of drinking include:

  • Sexual harassment and date rape are more likely to occur when alcohol is involved.
  • Violent, and/or sexually aggressive behavior.
  • Illness (or even death). Heavy drinking in high school and college can cause drinking problems in the future.

Alcohol consumption is related to the three leading causes of death among teens and young adults: unintentional injury, homicides, and suicides. It can and does prevent people from thinking clearly and making good decisions. While drinking, a person is more apt to do something that they may regret later (for example, engaging in unsafe sexual behavior).

How do I make a decision about drinking at college?

You probably know that drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the United States and you will get in legal trouble if you are caught. Some colleges have disciplinary procedures for students who are caught drinking such as suspension, mandatory counseling, or expulsion. However, you will probably encounter alcohol at some point before you turn 21, which is the legal drinking age in the United States. Obviously, the best way to avoid drinking-related problems is to not drink at all.

If you decide to drink, it should be your own decision and not because other people want you to, or tell you to. Also, remember that if you drink more than one or two drinks, you may lose the ability to think clearly and may have difficulty controlling your body (stumbling, slurring your words, etc.).

If you do decide to drink, here are some tips to stay safe:

  • Be in control of your beverage at all times. Never put your drink down and walk away. Date rape drugs such as “Roofies” (slang for Rohypnol® or GHB) can easily be put in a drink without you even noticing. Roofies cause drowsiness, dizziness, memory loss, and other dangerous symptoms.
  • Do not drink and drive, regardless of the situation. You should also never get in the car with someone else who has been drinking. Call a ride share or campus security and ask for a ride. Alcohol makes your judgment cloudy, slows your reflexes, and affects your vision.
  • Avoid playing drinking games such as “beer pong,” “flip cup,” “power hour,” etc. People tend to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol this way. Try to count how many drinks you have had and know your limit.
  • If you feel that you have a drinking problem or if your friends are commenting on your drinking, see a counselor for help.

Be smart when it comes to drinking, and try out different activities that don’t include alcohol. You’ll see that you don’t need to drink to have a good time. If you feel that you need to drink to “fit in”, you always have the choice to drink a beverage that does not contain alcohol. If you feel funny about not drinking an alcoholic beverage, you can order a drink that looks like it has alcohol in it, but doesn’t, such as seltzer or club soda with ice and fruit.

Illicit Drugs

You may see people doing illicit drugs (such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and others) at college, or someone may try to pressure you to try them. Try to remember that the majority of young adults don’t use drugs.

Some of the dangers of drugs include:

  • Many drugs, including weed (marijuana) contain many dangerous and toxic chemicals.
  • Trying a drug “just once” may seem harmless, but you really never know exactly what’s in it.
  • Non-prescription illicit drugs are illegal with the exception of marijuana in some states. If you are caught, you will likely face a large fine or time in jail. A police record can limit your career choices. Even trying drugs just once can be something that you will regret later on.
  • Drugs are frequently the causes of car crashes, falls, and suicide.
  • Continuous drug use can change your appearance, cause you to do poorly in school, make you depressed, and destroy your relationships with friends and family.
If you have a friend with a drug problem, gather the support of other friends and do your best to get him or her to go for help. The same goes for you if you develop a drug problem. Remember that drugs won’t make you happy or “cool”. The way to be happy is to do activities that you like. You can join clubs, play sports or games, go out to dinner, to the movies, or do any number of other safe activities that you enjoy.