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Understanding Anxiety Disorders in College Students: How Parents Can Help

Anxiety Disorders in College Students

Stressed college student

What should parents know about helping their young adult college student with an anxiety disorder?

The college years are a time of excitement, growth, and self-discovery. While it’s normal for students to feel pressure and occasional stress, persistent and overwhelming anxiety may signal a deeper problem. Take a look at the signs of anxiety disorders, the challenges faced by college students, and practical steps parents can take to help their child seek treatment.

Anxiety Disorders in College Students

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues affecting college students.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 40 million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders each year. College life can exacerbate these conditions due to factors such as academic pressure, social challenges, financial stress, and the pressure to make significant life decisions.

While some level of stress is common during the college years, an anxiety disorder poses a much more serious problem. Anxiety disorders are more than just fleeting feelings. This serious mental health issue often includes persistent anxiety or panic and can significantly disrupt daily life.

Challenges College Students Face

College students often face unique challenges when addressing mental health concerns.

The transition from high school to college, the pressure to excel academically, and the newfound independence can contribute to heightened stress levels. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health issues may prevent some students from seeking help, fearing judgment or a perceived lack of understanding from their peers.

Signs of an Anxiety Disorder

Parents need to recognize the signs of anxiety disorders in their college students.

Common symptoms may include excessive worrying, changes in sleep patterns, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. If these signs persist and interfere with daily life, consider seeking professional help.

If your child lives away from home on campus or in an off-campus apartment, you may not have the ability to notice everyday symptoms of an anxiety disorder. This may mean that you need to rely on the limited interactions you have with your young adult child. Make a point of checking in or talking to them more often, sit your child down for a conversation, or check in with their roommate or friends.

Steps To Help Your College Student Seek Treatment

Start by initiating an open and non-judgmental conversation with your college student. Encourage them to share their feelings and experiences. Show them that you are a supportive listener, and avoid dismissing their concerns.

Familiarize yourself with common anxiety disorders, their symptoms, and available treatment options. Understanding the nature of anxiety will enable you to provide informed support to your child.

Most colleges offer counseling services as part of their student support. Encourage your child to explore these resources, which often provide confidential counseling sessions. Research the counseling services available on campus, and help your child schedule an appointment.In some cases, this option may not provide the support and intensive treatment a young adult needs. A severe anxiety disorder or a mental health issue that stops the student from engaging in school, social, or other activities may require additional help.

If the anxiety symptoms persist or worsen, seek professional help from a licensed therapist or counselor. Help your student find a mental health professional in the local area, and assist them in scheduling an appointment or arranging for in-patient treatment.

Reassure your college student that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Offer emotional support throughout the treatment process, and let them know you are there for them without judgment. If your child needs to leave school for the semester to seek in-patient therapy, help them to make the necessary arrangements. This may include discussing health-related leave with their advisor or another school official, subletting their apartment for the term, and, above all, helping them to understand that they need to put their mental health first.

Need help?

Does your child need help dealing with an anxiety disorder?

Please contact Anxiety Institute for more information.

About the Author

Headshot: Stacy Santacroce, LCSW
Over the last sixteen years, Stacy has worked with clients of all ages providing care for mental health and substance use disorders in outpatient, partial and intensive outpatient settings. Stacy maximizes the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy using an individualized, strengths-based approach.