Wrapping Your Head Around Mental Health in College

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The age-old adage that college will be “the best four years of your life,” while not erroneous, is a generalization that has excited and beset college students since the dawn of higher education. It may resonate with many college students, while eluding others.

Put simply, college, like life, has its highs and lows, and it can be especially tough to traverse these peaks and valleys alone. It’s normal to feel anxious, overwhelmed and a bit despondent at times. However, it’s important to understand these feelings and how to get help when necessary.

Dr. Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president and director of ASU’s Health and Counseling Services, says millennials seek help for mental health more frequently than any other generation. This isn’t because they have more mental health issues, but because they feel more comfortable talking about them.

“Many more people in the millennial generation have had their emotional health issues identified when they were in high school or earlier, so they are more apt to continue that support on in college than in previous generations,” he says. “In previous generations, the stigma was higher, the help seeking was lower, and people may have gone undiagnosed.”

While being inundated with FOMO-inducing Snapchat stories and carefully curated Instagram photos may fuel an initial feeling of isolation, social media may be just the thing to galvanize a sense of solidarity. In the millennial milieu, it’s easier than ever to celebrate, or commiserate, with like-minded individuals.

“Social media as a way of connecting people is a way to find people who are like you,” says Krasnow. “If you are struggling with an issue, and you can find someone who is struggling with that issue, even if they’re not in your neighborhood and not at your school, you will feel less alone in the world.”

The platitude “college is the best four years of your life” generates unrealistic conjectures that may not match an individual’s college experience. Krasnow suggests talking about specific concerns and expectations instead of looking at the big picture, which can be overwhelming.

“Any time that anyone has the experience of someone telling them the way they’re experience should be and it doesn’t match their actual experience, then it has the potential to make them feel worse, because they’ll feel different or strange or outside the norm,” says Krasnow.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine if something is a temporary stressor or something more serious. Krasnow says there are three factors that can determine whether or not an issue is significant enough to seek help: intensity, interference and duration.

“Those are the three criteria that all mental health professionals look at when talking to someone about their issues,” he says. “How long has this been going on? How bad is it? And how much is it interfering?”

Mental health issues usually manifest in adolescence and early adulthood. Although this coincides with most people’s college years, that doesn’t mean that college is the cause. In fact, it has been reported that those in college actually have fewer mental health issues than those who are not.

Krasnow says that isolation is “a major exacerbating factor to any emotional health issue”. Because college is an inherently interactive and dynamic activity, it can actually serve as a protective factor.

“In fact many of the issues that people experience in college or in general in their lives are helped by decreasing isolation,” he contends. “Community connections of whatever type can often be the antidote to feeling overwhelmed or stressed.”

 “Community connections of whatever type can often be the antidote to feeling overwhelmed or stressed.”

Krasnow says talking to others about mental health concerns, whether they are peers or professionals, is paramount. ASU has a plethora of resources, including counseling centers on all four campuses. Students can drop in or call for an assessment or appointment. Though the office is open during the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., counselors are on-call 24/7 for emergencies.


“There is help available to you, that help comes in the form of counseling but it also comes in the form of talking to a friend or trusted person in your life,” says Krasnow. “The most important thing to do is to not go through it by yourself.”

ASU Counseling Services Locations
Hours of Operation: Monday- Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Downtown Campus
Historic Post Office Building
522 N. Central Avenue, Suite 208
Phoenix
602.496.1155

Tempe Campus
Student Services Building, Room 334
1151 S. Forest Avenue,
Tempe
480.965.6146

Polytechnic Campus
Academic Center, Suite 92
5988 S. Backus Mall
Mesa
480.727.1255

West Campus
University Center Building, Room 221
4701 W. Thunderbird Road
Glendale
602.543.8125

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