Anxiety in College Students: Causes, Statistics & How Universities Can Help (2022)

Anxiety in College Students: Causes, Statistics & How Universities Can Help (1)

Anxiety and depression are the two most common reasons that students seek mental health services, according to theCenter for Collegiate Mental Health 2017 Annual Reportfrom Penn State University. While the incidence of all other mental illnesses reported by college students has declined or remained flat, these two mental health conditions have shown year-over-year increases.

Many types of anxiety disorders can afflict college students. According to theMayo Clinic, symptoms of anxiety include nervousness, unease, a sense of impending danger or doom, sweating and trembling, inability to maintain focus, uncontrollable worry, and insomnia. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by feelings of restlessness, fatigue, and difficulty maintaining focus, according to theU.S. National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH). Anxiety is present in such specialized disorders as phobia-related illnesses caused by an inordinate fear of certain items or situations, such as germs or confined spaces.

Anxiety is similar to other mental health illnesses in being difficult for diagnosticians to identify and sufferers to acknowledge. People experiencing chronic anxiety often avoid places and activities that may trigger these feelings, which negatively affects their quality of life. They often downplay the impact of anxiety on their day-to-day lives, or they simply may not realize they are dealing with a potentially serious mental health condition.

However, here are some tips to help effectively treat anxiety which can enable a person afflicted with the disorder to live a normal, healthy life. This guide explores the causes and symptoms of anxiety in college students, as well as current and long-term health impacts from the condition and the ways universities are helping students who suffer from anxiety.

Facts and Statistics About Anxiety in College Students

TheU.S. Census Bureaureports that in 2017, more than 18 million students were enrolled in college in the U.S. According to figures compiled byStatista, nearly three out of four of these students have experienced a sense of “overwhelming anxiety” at some time, and just under 30% report having felt overwhelming anxiety in the previous two weeks. Here are other statistics that examine the impact of anxiety on college students.

Prevalence of Anxiety in College Students

That so many college students are affected by anxiety is not surprising. Students often have to manage heavy loads of coursework, in addition to participating in extracurricular activities and holding part-time or full-time jobs. Students must also cope with the stress of choosing a new career based on their education goals. Despite anxiety being so prevalent among college students, university officials may not be aware of the damage anxiety can cause to students, nor know how to properly address the disorder.

Anxiety is prevalent among college students in part because they are in the midst of a major life transition. Lois M. Collins writes in theDeseret Newsthat “college students may have a unique vulnerability because mental illness often appears amid the transition from childhood to adulthood.” The everyday stresses and demands of the academic environment also contribute to students’ feelings of anxiety.

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Additional Mental Health Afflictions College Students May Experience

In addition to anxiety, college students may suffer from other mental health conditions. It is understandable for college students to feel sad or anxious on occasion, but the feelings usually pass in a matter of days. Depression and anxiety may cause these negative emotions to persist and affect all aspects of the student’s life, however. TheMayo Clinicdescribes “college depression” not as a separate clinical diagnosis but rather as the onset of depression that starts during college. Symptoms of “college depression” include persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, angry outbursts, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, and a sense of worthlessness.

Students with mental health disorders may face unique challenges during their time on campus. According to theNational Alliance on Mental Illness, adults who have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to drop out of college than those who do not have a psychiatric diagnosis. Other mental health conditions that college students may suffer from include eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorders.

Anxiety’s Effects After Students Leave College

Beyond the short-term effects of anxiety, the condition can have a long-term impact on college students, sometimes extending long after they’ve graduated. TheMayo Clinicnotes that generalized anxiety disorder can precede other mental health problems, or it may worsen a preexisting health condition, such as headaches and migraines, heart disease, and chronic pain.

Additionally, anxiety can play a role in a person’s recovery from another illness. Writing forJohns Hopkins Medicine, Una McCann, MD, describes how anxiety can impair a person’s recovery from a heart attack by interfering with the patient’s prescribed medications or preventing sleep during recovery, among other complications. “Anxiety disorders come with a high degree of fear and uncertainty,” Dr. McCann writes. “When this fear and uncertainty keep the heart attack or heart disease patient from following the advice and treatment plan of their cardiologist, it can have a major impact on recovery.”

Treatment and Support for Anxiety in College Students

Although anxiety is a serious mental health condition, effective treatments are available to prevent the condition from impairing the education of a college student. The resources described here help students overcome anxiety and lead a happier, healthier life.

University Mental Health Resources

In conjunction with on-campus clinics and hospitals that provide the full gamut of health services to students, faculty, staff, and the community, most colleges and universities offer a range of mental health services geared specifically to the needs of students. For example, The Center for Student Wellbeingat Duquesne University offers free, confidentialUniversity Counseling Servicesto enrolled students to help them overcome anxiety and deal with other mental health conditions. Additionally, the university offers a crisis support line, therapy groups, and workshops that give students the opportunity to discuss their problems as a component of their recovery.The Duquesne Wellbeing Resourcespage offers tips and links to sources for more information about anxiety, stress, depression, and sleep disorders, among other mental health topics.

However, many universities struggle to provide their students with robust mental health services. Students often have to cut through red tape within the institution, and funding such programs and initiatives becomes increasingly difficult in light of the continual belt-tightening at most schools. As Caroline Simon writes inUSA Today, demand for mental health services for college students is increasing at a time when scarce resources make it nearly impossible for schools to hire sufficient counselors to meet the demand. The result is students having to wait weeks before a counselor is available, or once treatment starts, students may be limited to a set number of sessions with the counselor.

External Health Clinics

College students facing anxiety may find that the resources offered by mental health clinics outside their campus community provide the most effective treatment for their conditions. The resources include consulting with mental health practitioners operating in public health facilities and in private offices.

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TheMayo Clinicdescribes potential treatment options for individuals who suffer from anxiety: psychotherapy, medications, clinical trials, lifestyle coaching, home remedies, support groups, behavior modification, and alternative medicine, such as herbal and dietary supplements. College students who have health insurance through their school or another provider may receive therapy or medications through the mental health services of their insurers.

Support Groups for Students with Anxiety

College students suffering from anxiety may find relief by discussing the progress of their recovery with others who have the same condition or other firsthand experience with anxiety. TheAnxiety and Depression Association of America(ADAA) provides an extensive directory of support groups for individuals dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues. Students who would like to start an anxiety support group to help their peers will find instructions for doing so on the ADAAStart a Support Grouppage.

Tips for Addressing Anxiety in College Students

Anxiety in college students goes far beyond the typical worrying about picking a major or cramming for a final exam. The illness can be debilitating, preventing students from completing their studies and affecting them long after they have left school. Anxiety impacts millions of individuals across the country, but the symptoms and effects of the disorder on a given individual are unique. Understanding the wide-ranging effects of anxiety enables faculty, staff, and other students to recognize the full scope of the illness and empathize with those afflicted by it.

Anxiety is an Illness that Needs to Be Taken Seriously

Even with the growing awareness of the detrimental impact of anxiety, college students may find that peers and instructors do not take their battle with anxiety seriously. More outreach is required to ensure that those suffering from the illness receive proper treatment. The Mayo ClinicAnxiety Disorderspage provides helpful tips for coping with anxiety, such as discovering what may trigger stress in a person, learning time management techniques, devising an individualized treatment plan, and strictly following the treatment plan.

It may not be immediately apparent to college students when a peer is suffering from anxiety. The behavior and other symptoms characteristic of an anxiety disorder may be perceived by others as strange or bizarre. It is also difficult for students who have experienced the normal, everyday stress and anxiety of college life to fully comprehend the debilitating effects of a full-blown anxiety disorder.

Because anxiety symptoms and effects vary from person to person, effective treatment starts by acknowledging the potential severe impact the illness can have on a person. It is counterproductive to downplay the seriousness of the malady by labeling the symptoms as nothing more than standard “jitters.”

Helping Students Overcome Anxiety Begins with Support

Anxiety is a widespread mental health condition that is also one of the most misunderstood. By showing your support for students who suffer from anxiety, you let them know that they are not alone in their struggle. Remind these students that they are welcome in the campus community, whether by attending an anxiety support group with a peer who has anxiety or by starting a support group or organization on campus. All will be rewarded by sharing in the contributions these students make to society once they return to health and begin their careers.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Start a Support Group

(Video) Why are college students so stressed?

Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Support Groups

The Conversation, “1 in 5 College Students Have Anxiety or Depression. Here’s Why”

Deseret News, “The New Campus Crisis: How Anxiety Is Crippling College Kids Across the Country”

Duquesne University, Confidentiality

Duquesne University, Counseling & Wellbeing: Services

Duquesne University, Wellbeing Resources

Johns Hopkins Medicine, Anxiety and Heart Disease

Mayo Clinic, Anxiety Disorders

(Video) Mental Health in College - Students Speak Out (Healthline x Best Colleges)

Mayo Clinic, “College Depression: What Parents Need to Know”

National Alliance on Mental Illness, “A Diagnosis of Mental Illness Need Not End a College Career”

Penn State University Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2017 Annual Report

Statista, “Percentage of U.S. College Students that Had Ever Felt Overwhelming Anxiety as of Fall 2018”

U.S. Census Bureau, “More than 76 Million Students Enrolled in U.S. Schools, Census Bureau Reports”

U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety Disorders

USA Today, “More and More Students Need Mental Health Services. But Colleges Struggle to Keep Up”


How do universities reduce anxiety? ›

Eat well, get enough sleep, be physically active (find out more about getting active), cut down on alcohol, and take time to relax as well as working and studying. Read about the 5 steps to mental wellbeing. Avoid drugs, including lots of caffeine - this can have a negative impact on your stress levels and wellbeing.

What causes anxiety among college students? ›

In a 2020 survey of 36 universities, 34% of college students surveyed reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety. The combination of academic pressure, moving away from home, new social situations, and financial stressors can create the perfect storm for anxiety to surface during the college years.

What percentage of college students suffer from anxiety? ›

Up to 44% of college students reported having symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How can universities help students with stress? ›

Factors contributing to students' stress include isolation, trauma, and external pressures. Colleges can support students by forming intervention teams and wraparound services.

Are universities causing anxiety and mental problems to students? ›

From the results, it showed that students who were in their first and second academic year exhibited a risk of anxiety 3.06 times more (OR = 3.06; 95% CI = 1.43–6.51) while students who were in their third and fourth academic year showed a risk of anxiety 2.95 times more (OR = 2.95; 95% CI = 1.35–6.47) as compared to ...

How does college affect mental health? ›

Entering college can trigger mental health disorders

Even if someone doesn't develop a formal disorder, they might still struggle. It's difficult to navigate the stress of the transition to college. An overwhelming workload, unfamiliar environment, and other stressors can lead to a mental health crisis.

How does anxiety affect academic performance in college? ›

The students with high level of anxiety had lower vitality and learning scores comparing to their peers with low level of anxiety. This result is crucial, because students with high levels of thriving can cope with stress and feel themselves better psychologically than others.

What are the common causes of stress in college students? ›

College students commonly experience stress because of increased responsibilities, a lack of good time management, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and not taking enough breaks for self-care. Transitioning to college can be a source of stress for most first-year students.

How anxiety affects college students academically? ›

Mental health problems can affect a student's energy level, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and optimism, hindering performance. Research suggests that depression is associated with lower grade point averages, and that co-occurring depression and anxiety can increase this association.

What percentage of college students drop out because of mental health? ›

64% of students drop out of college because of mental health problems. In a survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a strong correlation between the number of students who drop out of college and depression was discovered.

What causes mental health in college students? ›

Long-term stress increases the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, substance use problems, sleep problems, pain, and bodily complaints such as muscle tension. Research indicates that stressful events cause significant psychological such as anxiety, distress, and depression (27).

What percentage of college students struggle with mental health? ›

Nearly half of college students surveyed by Fortune reported their overall mental health has worsened since the pandemic. About 56% say they have experienced worsening stress, while 53% reported heightened anxiety, and 45% cited increased depression symptoms.

Can I go to university with anxiety? ›

Mental health difficulties can lead to problems with both academic attainment and your quality of life. But you can overcome depression and anxiety, and live your best life at university.

How can the higher education institutions helps students to cope with students anxiety during this trying time? ›

Having human relationships between faculty members and students is very important. Communication between these groups plays an important role in reducing students' anxiety. The faculty members should ask students if they need help to understand the curriculum, do assignments, and write reports.

How do college students deal with social anxiety? ›

6 Tips for Coping with Social Anxiety in College
  1. Build new friendships. Smile, nod, and say hello to new people. ...
  2. Attend social functions. Even if you're apprehensive about it, make it a point to attend some social functions. ...
  3. Be ready for conversation. ...
  4. Exercise, daily if possible. ...
  5. Eat healthy. ...
  6. Practice mindfulness.
2 Feb 2022


1. College Anxiety and Depression -
(Dr. Cullen Hardy)
2. Performance Anxiety and University Students
(IUSB Titan Success Center)
3. Why you should take a break: Prioritizing mental health in schools | Hailey Hardcastle | TEDxSalem
(TEDx Talks)
4. Makena Hearing involving the Obstetrics, Reproductive, and Urologic Drugs Advisory Committee - Day 3
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
5. Mental Health and being a Student- You have to know These Facts!
(Ruderman Family Foundation)
6. Teaching CHAT October 19
(Teaching & Learning Center Kansas State University)

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