Is College a Dangerous Place?

I know, this is a depressing title. The following is not political commentary but one person’s perspective on campus health & safety issues. 

I wanted to write about the safety of college-age kids b/c, though teenagers and twenty-somethings may know it but not enjoy it, they are still our children and we parents worry.  With each passing year, family time becomes less frequent. If your college student participates in study abroad or internships over the summer, you may only see them 2-4 weeks each year, during short visits home over winter or summer breaks— spring break at home isn’t a thing! With so little face-to-face time, how do you know if 'life as a college student' is working out? 


The counseling center at Southern Methodist University highlights positivity on the video screens in the waiting room.


The reality of college life

Once the excitement of O-week dies down, things start to get very real on college campuses. Freshmen quickly discover what managing their own schedule is like. Getting enough sleep, eating right, rising up to the challenge of higher academic expectations, meeting and interacting with strangers every hour of every day, just learning the college map...can be overwhelming. Most freshmen have never, independently, managed their own lives. 

Some random facts about physical safety on campus:

Experts say:

  • Gun related deaths are rare on college campuses, highly-publicized campus murders notwithstanding.
  • Accidents are the #1 cause of deaths in the 18-25 cohort (no surprise--cars!)
  • Almost 2000 students die annually from alcohol-related incidents.
  • 10% (599,000) full-time, 4-yr college students are injured b/c of alcohol
  • 12% (696,000) are hit or assaulted by another drinking college student
  • 23.1% of female college students are victims of sexual assault 
  • Alcohol clearly and continuously makes students do stupid things.

UT Austin

Trying to keep campus safe

Concealed Weapon Signage at Gerald Ford Stadium, SMU

Concealed Weapon Signage at Gerald Ford Stadium, SMU

Some random facts about mental health on campus:

Experts say: 

  • The typical freshman adjustment period averages 6-10 weeks
  • Homesickness hits millions of college students annually
  • Depression affects 10% of students
  • The number of students presenting with clinical depression and suicidal tendencies has tripled over the 20 years. 
  • 75% of lifetime cases of diagnosable mental health issues begin by age 24—right before or during college age years
  • 10-30% of students nationwide require some sort of accommodation 
  • About 1000 college students commit suicide annually
  • Campus budgets aren’t exactly overflowing with mental health resources

What Parents Can Do:

Pay attention. You may start noticing changes in behavior. Perhaps you used to chat every day--now texts & calls go unanswered. Your straight ‘A' student now tells you about the Ds and Fs. Your socially awkward daughter says she’s not made any friends or joined any groups. Your teen comes home for Thanksgiving and no longer fits into any of their clothes. How do you know if the changes you see are a commonplace, regular ‘adjustment’ freshmen must undergo or if these are symptoms of some deeper, underlying problem?

What are signs of a problem: From NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

  • Excessive worrying, fear and procrastination
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene and appearance
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance (mostly in adolescents)

What Colleges Do:

  • Dorm have resident advisors who are first in line to notice a student's behavioral changes or if students are hiding out in rooms 
  • Staff the counseling center
  • Provide support and education for professors
  • Provide students anonymous help and accommodation
  • Encourage peer-run support groups and club
  • Provide leave of absence thereby mitigating academic issues by not yanking scholarships due to mental health issues

What Students Can Do:

  • Connect with academic and/or residential advisors, parents, counseling staff!
  • Alcohol: Moderate usage!!

Allison Henderson

If you want someone to help your teen organize and plan their college adventure, give A+ a call. I would love to help launch your teen!