Anxiety When Heading Off to College

Health Writer

Colleges and universities across the country have reported a significant increase in students seeking mental health medical care and counseling services over the past several years. One study, conducted by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, indicated that 23% of students at liberal arts colleges and 13% of students at national universities use the colleges' mental health services.

College life is a new experience, with new pressures, new friends, and new responsibilities. Add to that increased schoolwork, exams and possibly part time work and college students can easily feel overwhelmed.

Symptoms may appear as:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Low energy

Some college students can develop panic attacks, which may include additional symptoms, such as breathing problems, heart palpitations or chest pains.

Besides the emotional stress college students go through, there is a good chance the students are not taking care of themselves physically. They may be eating more junk food or skipping meals. They may be staying up late. All of these can contribute to feelings of anxiety.

Often, when teens are away at college, they can be embarrassed over symptoms of anxiety, feeling there is something "wrong" with them or they may just assume there are feelings of homesickness and not want to admit their weakness in front of other students. Other students may just not know where to go for help.

For some, anxiety may develop because of the new pressures at college. For others, mental illness may already be present and symptoms can worsen when a child leaves home for the first time.

It may be helpful for parents to discuss what to do and where students can reach out for help if it is needed. Many colleges offer mental health and counseling services. Before your teen heads off to live away from college, check into what services are offered. Some questions parents may want to ask are:

  • Can the mental health professionals diagnose anxiety?
  • What types of treatment do they offer?
  • Is counseling provided?
  • Is there a medical doctor on staff to write prescriptions?
  • Where can prescriptions be filled?
  • If your teen is currently on medication, is this medication available?
  • Can your present health insurance be accepted?

For students that already have or are being treated for mental illness, what mental health services the college offers should be a consideration when choosing the college.

Many students don't realize their symptoms signal an anxiety disorder and do not seek treatment, but instead suffer, feeling more and more isolated and alone. When this happens, their chance of success at college decreases.

Talking to your teen before he or she leaves for college can help provide the information her or she needs to reach out and get help. Let your teen know anxiety is a disorder and treatment is available.


"Today's College Students Experience More Anxiety", 2007, June, Author Unknown, All Children's Hospital

"Starting University: Anxiety", 2008, Aug 18, Author Unknown, The Student