Dr. Gerard Lawson
President, American Counseling Association (ACA)
People are often surprised to learn that there are significant mental health challenges for students on college campuses. These students are young, bright and seemingly healthy, so how could there possibly be any issues?
The truth is that college today has new challenges that did not exists when this generation’s parents were in school. Pressures to get into the right school start younger, the focus on achieving instead of learning becomes pervasive and there are pressures from social media that we have never had to contend with before. There is an allure to social media, because it proposes to connect you with old friends and helps people find new ones — but some people use social media to observe life, rather than engage in it.
This is part of why college students have been described as part of an “epidemic of loneliness.” During what are supposed to be the greatest years of a young person’s life, we are seeing more depression, more anxiety, more loneliness and even higher instances of suicide.
More and more college campuses are recognizing this and are shifting their focus to add holistic wellness as part of the college experience. Instead of waiting until a struggling student reaches out about counseling services proactively, colleges are instead focusing on prevention.
Wellness centers are becoming more common, and they include mindfulness classes, guidance on healthy sleep habits, nutrition counseling, stress management workshops, career exploration and more. As importantly, wellness centers connect students to one another “in real life,” not virtually. This allows them to move beyond the screen and engage in life again.
One of the most popular courses to ever be taught on a college campus was a “happiness class” at Yale University. There is a reason for this.
Students today seek balance and happiness, and college should be the place to do that. It takes deliberate attention, and occasionally, it does require the help of a professional counselor. But most importantly, it requires the will to support young people as they discover their authentic path in life. They deserve that opportunity and listening to their needs often helps illuminate that path.