Mental Health Discrimination at Colleges

July 24, 2023

Written by

Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Stephanie O’Brian, EdS, LPC

Stop and take a moment to reflect on what life was like in March 2020 when COVID first began. Then, continue to reflect on your life in the months and years that followed, and you will most likely recall moments of fear, confusion, frustration, and isolation. Not many people came out of that period completely unscathed. There is a population, however, that continues to feel the painful ramifications of this most unorthodox time in our history.

It is important to note that research shows the mental health of young adults had begun spiraling long before 2020. According to Boston University’s The Brink, the decline of college students’ mental well-being is documented as far back as 2013 when an in-depth study began. The events of 2020 were not an isolated incident, but rather a catalyst for expedited trauma.

Young Adults and Mental Health Challenges

The years of 2020-2021 were wrought not only with a global pandemic but increased racial tensions with the Black Lives Matter movement and the political unraveling that accompanied the January 6 Insurrection. The divisive and polarizing social climate at the time made vulnerability and transparency even more difficult.

Those who are now young adults were robbed of some of their most formative years due to the chaos that ensued all around them. To make matters worse, everyone was struggling — including their parents — making it more difficult for signs of decreasing mental health and increasing toxic coping mechanisms to be detected.

Those who are now young adults were robbed of some of their most formative years due to the chaos that ensued all around them.

Fast forward to today when things are seemingly “back to normal” and there is an unfair expectation to send these students off to college without ever addressing their mental health shortcomings. Advocacy for mental health in young adults is more important now than ever before.

Colleges Lack Mental Health Resources Needed

college student sitting in class

College is glorified as this incredible season of growth, adventure, and often labeled as “the best time of your life.” This fails to show the full picture of this season, one filled with change and vulnerability (and oftentimes being away from home for the first time).

When students enter college full of hope and expectations but are met with challenges and lack of resources, it not only robs them of their confidence, but can lead to multiple compounding issues. Students may further isolate and resort to drinking and using drugs as coping mechanisms. They may fear the shame and/or costs associated with getting help and continue to spiral down, leading to dropping out of school or even worse, suicide.

The Brownstone Institute highlighted many of the issues facing young adults in this mental health crisis, including the rise in suicides at universities nationwide. This current problem is even more worrisome as suicide is already the second leading cause of death for young adults.

Discrimination Contributes to Declining Mental Health

Mental health discrimination in college is a reality. Most institutions of higher education are not equipped with the resources and staff necessary to appropriately address the needs of today’s young adults. The leaders of colleges and universities are generations removed from today’s young people and rose to decision-making status during times when mental health was extremely stigmatized. As a result, colleges’ discrimination against students with mental health issues becomes a reality because they are neither staffed nor prepared to handle these students.

Most institutions of higher education are not equipped with the resources and staff necessary to appropriately address the needs of today’s young adults.

Mental health discrimination in college is also a reality in how universities treat those who battle mental illness. Three-quarters of mental health issues have an onset age of 24, according to The Brink. Yet many universities will fail to listen to the echoes of struggles reverberating across their campuses and the stories of anguish being whispered (or hushed altogether) within the dorms. Instead, students are often left feeling like their experience does not matter or that they are selfish or ill-equipped to handle the rigor of college, so they must leave.

The Brink revealed that the mental health of college students across the US consistently declined during all eight years of the data analysis. It determined an overall 135% increase in depression and 110% increase in anxiety from 2013 to 2021. Additionally, the number of students who met the criteria for one or more mental health problems in 2013 doubled by 2021.

With numbers rising, mental health discrimination in schools is a topic that must be addressed. A State House News Service article called for the government to provide colleges with needed funding because no university, even those with the most money and largest endowments, can financially afford to tend to and care for our young adults in the ways they need. A bill has been introduced in Congress to better assess the mental health needs of college students, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Help for Young People Who Are Struggling

The lifelong implications of not catching these students during a critical period of their lives is steep and potentially devastating. At The Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we are passionate about young adults. Advocacy for mental health and wellness in young people is a core conviction shared by everyone who works here and is woven into everything we do.

If you or someone you care about is trying to find balance amid life’s difficulties and struggling with mental health or addiction, let us help. You do not have to suffer alone. Reach out today to learn more about how we can assist you on your journey to wellness and get you back on track to a happy and fulfilling life.