November 13, 2012


As I imagine most young adults feel, I started my first year of college with nervous anticipation. Going away to college provided a fresh start on a new life but also the pressure to make the most of the opportunity. Also, although I had an exciting future ahead of me, I still had the weight of my past with me that made campus life difficult.

Growing up with a parent with bipolar disorder and brain damage had left its mark on me—I still often experienced anxiety, feelings of powerlessness and isolation while away at school. I still struggled to cope effectively and find people who could understand. I learned quickly that no amount of distance from my family situation could change how I felt or the fact that my childhood didn’t quite match up with those of my peers, which I realized more and more as I socialized with new people my age.

I found hope while reading a campus newspaper article about student depression that mentioned NAMI on Campus, student-led mental health campus clubs. I knew immediately I had found an invaluable resource that could help me and others at my school.

In my junior year of college, I created NAMI’s University of Arizona campus club. Through it I established a wonderful supportive community that really made a positive impact on my life. The club empowered me to learn more about mental health and how to support my family while maintaining my own health. I saw directly how valuable peer support, self-advocacy and knowing you’re not alone can be.

Through our club’ campus-wide mental health awareness activities, student-run discussion group and our partnership with NAMI Southern Arizona (one of many local NAMI Affiliates nationwide), I learned about the issues that all college students face when it comes to mental health and how I can help address these issues.

As I enter my seventh year working for NAMI, I have learned a great deal about the mental health needs of college students. NAMI just recently published a national survey report on the experiences of college students living with mental health conditions. The report is a blueprint for what students want. Here are some highlights:

  • Sixty-four percent of students who stopped attending college are no longer attending because of mental health related reasons. The primary diagnoses of these students are depression, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Seventy-two percent of students experienced a mental health crisis on campus. Yet 34 percent reported that their college did not know about their crisis.
  • Fifty-seven percent of students did not access accommodations through college disability resource centers, often citing that they were unaware such services and supports existed or did not know how to access them. Forty percent of students did not access mental health services and supports at their school.
  • Thirty-six percent students cited stigma as a barrier to accessing their college’s mental health services and supports, making it the number one reason students don’t access treatment.

Students emphasized the critical need for the following services and supports to be available on campus:

  • Mental health training for faculty, staff and students.
  • Suicide prevention programs.
  • Peer-run, student mental health organizations.
  • Mental health information during campus tours, orientation, health classes and other campus-wide events.
  • Walk-in student health centers, 24-hour crisis hotlines, ongoing individual counseling services, screening and evaluation services and comprehensive referrals to off-campus services and supports.

As the survey shows and as other countless research findings have shown, mental health issues impact college students and they need our support. Most will experience these issues for the first time in their lives while attending college—catching them by surprise and leaving them ill-prepared to handle these issues on their own. They are not seeking help because they don’t know where or who to go to or they fear being negatively perceived by their campus community.

Every young adult deserves an understanding, helpful and supportive community like NAMI on Campus to turn to when life gets hard.

That is why NAMI has launched a new NAMI on Campus initiative and our commitment to college students. The NAMI on Campus website includes new resource sections to:

  • Learn more about college mental health.
  • Get involved with NAMI on Campus clubs.
  • Access resources for students, faculty and staff.
  • Connect with others.

Most of all, we want to hear more from college students—you! What resources, tools or information do you need to address mental health issues at your local college communities? How can NAMI help? Please feel free to email me at [email protected] with suggestions.

Through my own life and my years working with young adults, I have seen firsthand how just one meaningful connection can really change the course of someone’s life. Working together, we can make these connections for every young adult in need. Let’s get started!

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NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).