The Biggest Mental Health Ailment Plaguing College Campuses

An interesting phenomenon has emerged since the pandemic…

It’s been taking campuses by storm and it’s happening in just about every dorm room, family room, and any other room that has a bed or couch across America.

As a clinical psychologist, what I am speaking about?

Social apathy. 

In fact, your eyes may have glazed over just reading that. As you sink into your futon, you may be acknowledging that it’s been weeks since you texted your friends back, went on a date, or asked a classmate to coffee.  

What’s going on? We have lost our appetite to connect. 

The most problematic part? We don’t even care.

This is especially concerning considering that, even before the pandemic, a 2018 survey by Cigna found that more than half of the participants reported that no one knows them well. Post-pandemic, another report from Wildgoose found that 1 in 5 young adults suffer from loneliness and isolation. I’d argue that it’s higher than that.

I’ve heard a similar narrative, both when I’m speaking on campuses and when I’m visiting schools virtually.

Students type in the chat that they’ve lost the hunger to engage. 

Like a muscle, when we don’t use those social skills to ask questions, initiate, and self-disclose, those abilities can atrophy.

And what’s worse than forgetting how to connect? I’ll say it again: not caring.

As a therapist, I’m troubled by this and I’ll tell you why.

It’s hard enough to talk about mental health. It’s difficult to share with a classmate, a sorority sister or fraternity brother, or roommate that we’re struggling. On the other side, when you’re concerned about a peer, it’s not always easy to mount the conversation and share that you’re worried about someone’s well-being.

It’s typically that gut feeling that gives us the inkling that we need to interject. And it’s the desire to connect that compels us to lean into the discomfort that can come with some confrontation.

It’s certainly much easier to say to ourselves, “What’s the point?” “They don’t even know me.” “What’s it matter?”

If our existing social connections are disintegrating, and we’re not invested in fostering new ones, you can see how this can quickly unravel how people get help for their mental health. 

If we’re not intertwined in each other’s lives, it’s so easy to turn the other cheek on our loved one’s well-being. 

Afterall, if we don’t know about it, we don’t have to do anything about it.

Considering that college students typically disclose first to their friends regarding their mental health before talking to a professional, it’s essential that we ensure that we’re still fostering strong relationships where we can see and hear one another fully.

So, what can we do to lean into developing strong connections for the rest of this semester, especially if you’re noticing that you or your community seems disconnected?

  1. Embrace the awkward: Let’s be real—going to college is like adult kindergarten. While we normally work through this phase in the first semester or year of school, the stop-start of the last two years have left many feeling like they’re in more of adult preschool. Know that it’s going to be a little uncomfy but breaking the ice is a necessary process to get the closeness that we’re looking for.
  2. It doesn’t matter how far along you are in your college journey: I work with many collegians who tell me that as juniors and seniors, it’s simply too late to connect and make new friends. I even hear sophomores saying that sometimes. Not so, my friend. Even if it’s your last semester of your senior year, keep an openness for someone to change your life. 
  3. Join a club, even if it’s virtual: I know it can be easy to say with the virtual meetings, “What’s the point?” What people don’t always realize is that the connections you’re building today can grow for years to come. In fact, I’ve met so many more women from my sorority post-graduation than when I was an active member. It may not be just as you envisioned now, but don’t block yourself from a lifetime of opportunities because it’s not perfectly ideal right now. 

If you’re noticing that you’re feeling isolated and your mental health is suffering, let’s talk. I’d love to spend time with your community and whether it’s my programs on mental health or my Letters that Last a Lifetime talk specifically for the fraternity and sorority community, I’d love to visit you and your students. 

You don’t have to suffer silently this semester. Even though your couch and Netflix account may be telling you that you don’t need anyone—trust me, you do.

You matter and if I say so, you need to matter to someone else, too. Let someone get to know you and re-ignite your hunger to engage. Your stomach and your brain will thank you.