Signs Of Mental Illness in Your College Student

According to the CDC, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for teens between 10-24 years old. College is a time of great excitement, challenge, and transition. Issues like anxiety, perfectionism and depressed mood can come to the forefront as college students struggle to cope with all the transition in their lives.

Family members and friends can play a significant part in knowing early signs of mental illness that can come up while someone is in college.

Early intervention, getting into counseling or seeing a physician can help with early identification of mental illness issues, which in turn helps recovery happen, and gives college students tools to cope with their emotions. Below are a few early warning signs of mental illness:

  • Increasingly isolative behaviors. College is a social time and even for students who don’t describe themselves as ‘extroverts,’ finding a social group or a small group of supportive and healthy friends is key to maintaining a healthy emotional mindset. College students who begin withdrawing from significant relationships, refusing to attend social gatherings they would typically enjoy and becoming less emotionally connected to friends/family may be experiencing some symptoms of mental illness.
  • Lack of interest/pleasure in activities the college student used to enjoy. Any significant change in participating in or being engaged with social clubs, sports activities or hobbies the college student used to pursue enthusiastically can all be signs of a struggle with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
  • Dramatic change in sleep/appetite can also point toward issues with mental health. It’s typical for college students to struggle to find a healthy sleeping pattern and to maintain healthy eating habits, but should there be a dramatic change (i.e., sleeping less than 3 hours per evening, skipping multiple meals in a row, not feeling the need for sleep, increased need for sleep, consistent fatigue, etc), it could be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional.
  • Expressing feelings of consistent hopelessness, helplessness or thoughts of self-harm/suicide. Feeling hopeless in and of itself isn’t indicative of a mental illness, but consistently feeling a lack of hope, struggling to see a positive future or having thoughts of harm can all point to symptoms of a mental illness.
  • Most college campuses have a counseling center on-campus or consult with off-campus mental health providers and/or psychiatrists (physicians trained to administer and monitor psychiatric medications). Generally, the office of student life will have contacts so that if a student is experiencing distress, he/her will be able to meet with a mental health professional quickly. Concerned friends/family members can reach out on behalf of their loved one and help get their loved one connected to a mental health professional for an evaluation/recommendation.

Sarah (Brookings) Connor, LPC
sconnor @

Photo Credit: Public Domain