Campus mental health forums pay off, study shows
- When college students have a forum for talking about mental health issues, they are more likely to reach out to struggling classmates and create a campus atmosphere with less stigma attached to the problems. Experts say this is critical to stopping a rising suicide rate and higher levels of acute mental health concerns. Only one-third of students with serious mental health issues are treated, researchers say.
- Those results came from a study released by Active Minds, a student program that has seen success with having peers talk about these issues. It surveyed more than 1,000 students on a dozen campuses and found even basic familiarity with such programs increases knowledge and positive attitudes about mental health.
- The program can have significant results in even a year, the study by the Rand Corp. found, and can significantly increase the chances that a student will reach out to a classmate or a friend who is struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, all problems on the rise at universities.
That report noted suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age students and that as many as 36% of students are dealing with some form of serious mental health concern, though only about a third receive treatment or support. Another study at University of California, Los Angeles found that college students with suicidal thoughts are less likely to seek treatment if there is a stigma about the issue on campus and that there is a larger variation in the levels of stigma than previously thought. Researchers, who interviewed nearly 63,000 students over six years, also found that such support networks benefit students.
Such programs are attempting to tackle a growing concern. A report last year from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) showed that the number of students seeking support in 2016 had jumped 50% in a year. It also showed that 64% of the students who dropped out reported they did so due to mental health concerns and that counseling services were often cut off arbitrarily or because of rigid treatment limits. Another 2017 survey by the American College Health Association showed that 40% of college students reported feeling so depressed that they were having trouble functioning, and 61% said they had overwhelming anxiety in the previous 12 months.
With regard to longer term concerns, a study from the National Alliance on Mental Health shows over 75% of lifetime mental health issues can be diagnosed before the age of 24, making college a critical timeframe.
Research has shown that these problems are swamping college counseling offices, and some universities are using broader campus wide tactics to deal with the problem or outside services.
Virginia Tech University opened several satellite counseling clinics to reach students at places like a local Starbucks, the athletic department or at a graduate student center. Ohio State University added a dozen mental health clinicians in 2016 and launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to access appointments, a help line, breathing exercises or songs to cheer them up. Pennsylvania State University allocated an extra $700,000 for counseling and psychological services in 2017.