In the last few years, increased attention has been set on university students’ mental health struggles. With the rising rates of anxiety and depression (Howard et al., 2021; Linden et al., 2021), overflowing university counselling centers as well as suicide attempts happening on campus, it is clear that university students are struggling in important ways with their mental health. At our practice, Uprise Psychology & Wellness, we see important numbers of students consistently struggling with a range of challenges, from academic stress to depression to eating disorders. But what is it about going to university that puts young adults at risk of struggling with mental health?

Research suggests that university students encounter a unique set of stressors, sometimes chronically. This can, in turn, worsen their overall well-being and lead to deteriorating mental health and poor academic performance (Linden & Stuart, 2019).These specific stressors can be regrouped into 5 general categories.


This stressor regards student’s pressures regarding grades. This includes the pressure to achieve and maintain a high GPA, the intense focus on grades to maintain a scholarship and a sense of self-esteem, the volume of readings and assignments, the ability to balance maintaining a high GPA and overall well-being as well as the belief that future success could be tied to grades.

Learning environments

Students report that learning environments in which expectations are unclear, where there’s unclear communication with the professor and/or TA, and lack of guidance can create tremendous amounts of stress. This was particularly disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Campus culture

Another major stressor is related to campus culture. In particular, students report that a sense of competition with other students because of limited spots in programs and internships, pressure to succeed as well as campus culture which encourages harassment or discrimination can significantly impact their stress levels.

Interpersonal relationships

Students not only need to navigate the new academic environments during university, but also need to navigate new interpersonal relationships. During this time, students need to decide how to make new friends, learn how to balance their social lives with other important parts of their lives. Living with friends or in close quarters to friends (e.g., university residences) as well as having the pressure to engage in drinking and partying creates different group dynamics which university students then need to navigate. In addition, being in close proximity with so many other students might also elicit more comparison to others, which can create additional stress.

Personal factors

Finally, university students need to manage all aspects of their personal self-care, sometimes for the first time. This means they need to figure out how to maintain good sleep, food and exercise habits, take care of their health and household needs, and find effective strategies to self-soothe on top of managing their academic and social lives. In addition, students might face real financial stressors which can interfere with their sense of stability and safety, including managing student loans and facing food insecurity.

In conclusion, university students face real and important challenges related to their mental health. Receiving adequate support to help manage and remove some of these stressors in crucial.

If you are a university student struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or any other type of mental health challenge, don’t hesitate to reach out! One of our therapists can help you! Check out Uprise Psychology & Wellness’ therapists here!


Howard, A. L., Carnrite, K. D., & Barker, E. T. (2022). First-year university students’ mental health trajectories were disrupted at the onset of COVID-19, but disruptions were not linked to housing and financial vulnerabilities: A registered report. Emerging Adulthood, 10(1), 264-281.

Linden, B., Monaghan, C., Zheng, S., Rose, J., & Mahar, A. (2021). A Cross-sectional Analysis of the Impact of COVID-19 Related Stressors on Canadian University Students’ Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Linden, B., & Stuart, H. (2019). Psychometric assessment of the post-secondary student stressors index (PSSI). BMC Public Health, 19(1), 1-12.

About the Author:

Dr. Melisa Arias-Valenzuela, C. Psych., is a Clinical Psychologist as well as the Founder and Director of Uprise Psychology & Wellness. She completed her doctoral studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal and her thesis focused on understanding how multicultural people identify with their cultural groups and negotiate their cultural differences as well as the repercussions of these processes on their psychological well-being. She works primarily with people struggling with eating disorders, body image concerns and perinatal mental health challenges. Dr. Arias-Valenzuela is trained in CBT as well as Mindfulness, Compassion-based and Positive Psychology approaches and has a special interest and passion for creating safer and more accessible environments for clients and mental health professionals alike. To learn more about Dr. Melisa, click here