Students Mental Health Issues — Impacts on Academic Performance and Where to Get Help

College Students in Class

There are many kinds of mental health conditions. Although mental health conditions have a lot in common with each other, each type is quite different. These conditions may hinder students from excelling on tests, completing assignments or even making it to class. In extreme cases, students may even drop out of school.

Students with mental health conditions do not have to suffer in silence. There are a number of resources available where they can get information on how to cope with their condition, get assistance, and understand what they’re experiencing.

The following guide dives into more specific information about a variety of common mental health challenges and focuses on where and how college students — or those thinking about college education — can turn for support.

Stress and Anxiety

Whether in high school and concerned about college admission or in college already and struggling to adjust, it’s normal for students to feel stress and anxiety from time to time. However, when these feelings become pervasive, they can have a devastating effect on a student’s academic performance.


Counseling centers.

College campuses generally have counseling centers that allow students to speak to a therapist about their problems with stress and anxiety. If there isn’t a specific counseling center on campus, students may still be able to receive therapy at their school’s health care center.

Psychology department.

Students may also be able to find support through the psychology department at their school. In some cases, graduate students who are interested in becoming therapists will provide counseling under the supervision of the department.

Stress and anxiety peer groups.

Many schools have groups that allow students to get together with their peers and discuss their concerns. For example, some high schools have groups where students talk about body issues and other topics that affect their self-esteem.


Depression can have a serious negative impact on students’ grades. Depression can prevent people from engaging in many day-to-day activities, including completing schoolwork. People who suffer from depression may display a number of symptoms, such as poor concentration, changes in sleep and eating habits, low energy and mood and panic attacks. As a result, when depression manifests, it can be difficult for students to get motivated enough to study for tests, work on assignments or even attend classes.


Depression peer groups.

Many college counseling centers or psychology departments have developed support groups so students can discuss their depression with each other as a professional counselor facilitates. Also, students may be able to locate peer groups through their student union.

On-campus counseling.

Colleges and universities generally give students access to mental health care for free through a specific counseling center or the general health center. Students may also be able to receive help through their school’s psychology department.

Religious leaders.

College students often find comfort from a group where they can practice their faith, and it can be a place to get counseling in conjunction with medical treatment for depression. Students can check with their school’s chaplain or religious leaders to find out if spiritual counseling is available.

Drug Abuse and Alcoholism

In college, alcohol and drug abuse are similarly correlated with poor grades on papers and exams — as well as missed classes and falling behind on coursework. Experimenting with alcohol and drugs is often a normal part of the older student experience. And though it may be discussed in relation to non-academic consequences — such as automobile accidents, violence, and unprotected sex — it can also impact students’ behavior in the classroom. Among pre-college students, substance abuse can cause neurological damage that directly influences academic performance, such as harm to verbal skills and memory. As a result, these students may perform poorly in their middle school or high school classes, leading to lower grades and overall lack of motivation.


Alcohol screening.

Many colleges offer screenings to students in order to determine if they’re at risk of developing alcoholism. Administered at the campus health center, these screenings help identify risk factors for addiction and treatment options if a student has a drinking problem.

Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Peer Groups.

Some campuses have twelve-step programs for students working on their sobriety. Also, schools without twelve-step programs may have peer support groups that include mentoring from students who have overcome addiction and alcohol-free social activities.

Recovery centers.

Some college campuses have special housing for students in recovery. This allows them to get support from people who understand what they’re going through and ensures that they don’t have to worry about exposure to drugs and alcohol in their dormitory.

Recovery schools.

Recovery high schools are alternative public schools that allow students struggling with alcohol and drug addiction to learn in an environment conducive to their recovery. In addition to schoolwork, these institutions provide mental health and addiction counseling.

Substance abuse prevention programs.

Some schools provide programs to educate teens on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, these programs — which may be part of a health class or a voluntary after-school program — teach students how to resist peer pressure, manage stress, and develop drug resistance and social problem-solving skills.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological condition that causes impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. ADHD is frequently associated with other mental health issues, which can further contribute to challenges in school. This disorder can result in a number of behaviors that can hurt academic performance, including daydreaming in class, refusing to listen to others, fidgeting, constant talking and getting bored easily. In addition, these students may make careless mistakes because of their impulsive nature or have trouble remembering when assignments are due. Compared to students without ADHD, students who live with the disorder are more likely to receive failing grades and lower grade point averages.

Some students with ADHD also suffer from depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.


ADHD evaluation.

Colleges may offer evaluations to students who suspect they have ADHD. This entails a comprehensive interview, psychological testing, and a treatment plan if a diagnosis is made.

ADHD peer groups.

Colleges may have ADHD support groups that are designed to help students support each other and keep each other accountable. The students in these peer groups check in with each other on a regular basis to ensure that their school work is always getting done.

Skills workshops.

Another resource that students with ADHD may have available to them through their school is skills training. Workshops can teach these students how to manage their time successfully, avoid procrastination, and study in the most efficient ways.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not just a food issue. Students with anorexia and bulimia experience a number of physical side effects — such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue — that can make it more difficult to succeed in the classroom. In addition, these disorders can impair cognitive function and development in teenagers, which also can have long-lasting consequences. Similarly, eating disorders can lead to depression and anxiety, which impede students’ motivation to do coursework and cause behavioral problems that make it difficult to learn.



Students with eating disorders may be able to speak to a counselor on campus that has specific experience treating bulimia and anorexia. This also allows them to address the mental health problems associated with eating disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Eating disorders in peer groups.

Therapy groups for students with eating disorders may be organized through the campus counseling center. There may also be peer advisors available to discuss students’ concerns about eating disorders and offer advice on how to get help.

Eating disorder screenings.

Some campus health centers offer screenings that are designed to identify eating disorders and help students get treatment after a diagnosis.

Nutrition counseling.

Campus health centers may have nutritionists on staff that specialize in helping patients with eating disorders. Depending on the school, students may be able to meet with a nutritionist on a weekly or monthly basis in order to regularly get information on healthy eating habits


Students with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may have obsessive thoughts and fears, and feel compelled to perform compulsive rituals throughout the day. This can make school a daunting proposition because even though these students may want to pay attention in class and do their homework, disordered thinking can make it difficult to focus. Consequently, this can lead to poor performance on tests, difficulty understanding course material, and an inability to complete homework. Even if students are motivated to do well, if the disorder is left untreated, it can eventually cause their grades to suffer.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

When students with OCD receive cognitive behavioral therapy, their academic performance improves exponentially. CBT may be available at college counseling or health centers, and if not, the school professionals can make a recommendation about how students can get help.

Disability resource center.

Campus disability resource centers provide services for students with OCD to help them thrive in their courses. Services may include test accommodations and note-taking assistance.

OCD Peer Groups.

Many schools have OCD support groups that are provided by therapists at the campus counseling center. Similarly, students with the disorder may be able to join campus peer groups that address specific issues related to OCD, such as hoarding, or the skills they need to improve their academic performance — including time management and study skills.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur when someone experiences a traumatic stressor in their life. PTSD can have serious effects on the brain that impair memory and make it difficult for students to do well in school. In addition, these students may also experience panic attacks and a lack of motivation or concentration, as well as disordered sleeping and eating patterns. All of these symptoms make it difficult for students to pay attention in class and keep up with their assignments, potentially leading to poor grades.


Counseling center.

The campus counseling center may have professionals with experience treating patients suffering from PTSD. In addition, students may be able to receive counseling for the problems related to PTSD, such as alcohol and drug abuse.

PTSD Peer Groups.

Led by mental health professionals on campus, students with PTSD may be able to join peer groups where they talk about what triggered their condition and how they’re coping with school and other responsibilities. In addition, there may be groups to address the specific experiences that lead to PTSD, such as groups for crime and abuse victims. Also, veterans on campus may have access to peer groups where they can discuss their military experiences and transition into life at college.

Being a student can be stressful enough, but trying to juggle schoolwork and other responsibilities while experiencing mental illness can make it that much harder. But students can work through many challenges and still perform well in school.

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