The frazzled freshman year: Rosecrance offers advice to help first-year college students thrive in new environments

The transition from high school to college and young adulthood is an exciting step, but it can be a challenge as young adults wrestle with newfound freedoms and search for their identities in new settings.

Over the past decade, researchers have documented increasing numbers of college students who are struggling with mental illnesses. In 2018, one study found that the number of college students with depression, anxiety, or suicide attempts doubled in the previous decade. Those with moderate to severe depression reached 41 percent while those with severe depression jumped from 9 percent to 21 percent. In addition, the World Health Organization found that over one-third of first-year college students struggled with mental illness.

With students facing even more stress from the pandemic, college and university counseling services are seeing a higher volume of clients. As a result, many have increased access to on-campus mental healthcare to help students find healthy ways to cope with stress.

“Though anxiety or depression can happen to anyone, first-year students are particularly vulnerable because they are in a new world without the structure and peer support they relied on for so long,” said Rosecrance Regional President Carlene Cardosi. “Loneliness, social isolation, and academic difficulties can become barriers to success, which makes it important for them to find a support network as soon as they can.”

If a young adult is struggling with college life, Cardosi encourages parents and trusted adults to help them gain perspective on the challenges. Young men, who tend to isolate when struggling, should be encouraged to connect with others before the year begins to establish relational foundations with faculty, resident assistants, or campus counselors. Men also should take advantage of the fresh start to try new activities to connect with peers.

Young women, who typically build connections more easily and ask for help more quickly, may struggle with self-esteem at the beginning of their college experience. They should be encouraged to be confident in themselves and to find others who will affirm them.

In addition, college students should remember the value of healthy habits such as proper eating, sleeping, physical activity, and stress reduction. Establishing these healthy routines will keep the mind and body in the best condition to handle uncomfortable situations as they arise.

Rosecrance offers a full continuum of care for mental health and substance use treatment, including the Launch to Life program at Rosecrance Lakeview in Chicago and college-focused programming at Connections Counseling in Madison, Wisconsin. If you or a loved one have questions about treatment or think you may need help, caring Access counselors are available at 888-928-5278.