In 2018, Kenya struck a new record in terms of the number of students who died over the year. Most of the deaths were attributed to cases of love-gone-sour. However, the common denominator for all these cases had something to do with mental health and substance use issues.
Why are so many students struggling with their mental health? That is a common question that many parents, faculty and staff would like to get answers to. While answers may not have been forthcoming, we uncover some of the reasons below.
There are no mechanisms to easily identify and support students with mental issues on campus
It is important to recognize that, primary and secondary schools have clear-cut support mechanisms for children with mental health problems and illnesses. They therefore easily identify these children, support them and even accommodate them with ease.
However, college life is like life in the jungle where most of the students have to survive on their own. So children with mental health issues who had support in primary and secondary come to university expecting and deserving ongoing care. Unluckily for them, non is often forthcoming thus leading to the deterioration of their conditions.
Stress from dealing with adulthood and life circumstances
They say life is a roller-coaster ride and campus life is the epitome of this ride. College students are often stressed, or distressed, dealing with the developmental challenges of emerging adulthood. Some are dealing with life circumstances that arise while at university. Challenges like sexual assault, harassment or the death of a loved one.
Others face challenges that started much earlier, like exposure to adverse childhood experiences including abuse and neglect. Some are very ill or extremely distressed, sometimes with a first experience of psychosis, severe depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Others have milder anxiety or are suffering through their first break-up. All these issues are likely to lead to the development of mental health issues.
Bottlenecks and perennial under-funding of Counseling Department
In as much as more students might be seeking help, campus counseling services may at best be frustrating. For starters, the campus counselors have to determine who needs what, when and where. Secondly, these departments are often not in a secluded place where the students are assured of their confidentiality and are therefore prone to stigma.
Therefore, the students who need the services most are the least likely to seek and find the care they need. Additionally, bottlenecks are common due under-funding of mental health and addiction services across colleges. Thus, students keep flowing in the doors to campus services, but only rarely and slowly flow out to other services, even if they have severe and persistent mental illness.
Loneliness and Perfectionism
Loneliness and perfectionism lurk around every corner on campus despite our virtual connectivity. These problems are not unique to students, but when life is more precarious and uncertain, they can take hold in a toxic way. Substances and self-harm can feel like solutions.
Success and meaning can be found along many paths, but the paths can be rough and winding. Some students have to face more barriers and hills, through no fault of their own. Sometimes the leader they’re following takes a wrong turn, or a path leads to a dead end. This could lead them into taking actions that could ruin their lives forever.