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Finding Mental Health Support on College Campuses: The Utility of Support Groups

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Autumn can mean many things: back-to-school shopping, colder temperatures, holiday traditions and celebrations. For college students, the fall can present new challenges. On college campuses across the country, freshmen face the undertaking of living away from family—often for the first time. College students of all ages adjust to new housing arrangements, seek a balance between social and educational pressures, and navigate the impending expectations of adulthood. While exciting for some, this period can be isolating, confusing, or stressful for many others. Mental health services through campus counseling and wellness centers are often under-advertised, and stigma prevents the topic of mental health from entering the discourse of campus. Students often find themselves unsure of where to turn.

Mental health needs are incontestably high across higher education settings. A 2022 Fortune study found that three in five college students have been professionally diagnosed with a mental health condition (Leonhardt, 2022). Further, the results of a 2023 Gallup poll indicated that 40% of undergraduate students had considered dropping out in the past six months, with a significant majority of participants citing mental health difficulties as the motivating factor (McPhillips, 2023). Nearly every metric points to worsening mental health for college-aged individuals, and it can be difficult for students to obtain help. Finding mental health support that feels personal, accessible, and flexible can be a daunting task, especially as many students are navigating healthcare decisions independently for the first time. While this search may feel overwhelming, one often-overlooked service may fulfill many students’ mental health needs: support groups.

Group support  can help you through your university path.

University support groups represent a burgeoning resource for mental wellness on college campuses. The most common conditions impacting college students today are anxiety and depression (Flannery, 2023), but the circumstances that precipitate and exacerbate mental health difficulties are nearly innumerable. Students’ concerns range from homesickness and academics to relationships and substance use. Specialized support groups serve to address these distinct needs. For example, New York University’s Wellness Exchange facilitates groups like Law Students’ Support Group, Trans, Gender Non-conforming, Non-binary Process Group, and Students’ Recovery Group. Uptown at Columbia University, groups like Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse and Multi-racial Identity Group help students navigate their personal challenges. University wellness centers nationwide have similar offerings. While the college experience can feel isolating, support groups unite a community of individuals facing related difficulties. Problems that once felt stigmatized or insurmountable can be unpacked within the safe space of a group that understands. United by the power of shared experience, students can develop coping strategies and build robust support networks.


Further, support groups as a resource can help to circumvent many of the systemic barriers students face when exploring traditional mental health care. College students seeking one-on-one counseling may encounter extended waitlists, overloaded counselors, or time-limited services. In other instances, they may be referred to external community providers, leading to additional costs and transportation difficulties. While such practices aim to optimize the availability of finite counseling staff, they can leave students feeling neglected or disregarded. Alternatively, support groups resolve many of these issues. They provide services to a greater number of students in on-campus settings, extending the reach of mental health staff and offering support in a timelier manner. For many individuals, support groups may represent the most direct avenue to mental health care.


If you are a college student, consider taking time during this fall semester to explore the support groups offered through your institution. Not sure where to start? Most universities house their support group information within their counseling or wellness center. You can stop by in person or review the current offerings on your college’s website. This information can usually also be accessed by searching [University Name] Support


Groups in your preferred search engine. If you know a student who is struggling, encourage them to explore these resources for support.



By: Shannon Ganley,

Mental Health Counseling Intern




References

Flannery, M. E. (2023, March 29). The mental health crisis on college campuses. National Education Association. https://www.nea.org/nea-today/all-news-articles/mental-health-crisis-college-campuses


Leonhardt, M. (2022, July 12). Crisis on campus: 60% of college kids are living with mental health disorders, and schools are woefully unprepared. Fortune. https://fortune.com/well/2022/07/12/mental-health-crisis-college-schools-unprepared/


McPhillips, D. (2023, March 23). Mental health struggles are driving more college students to consider dropping out, survey finds. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/23/health/mental-health-college-dropout-survey-wellness



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