Colleges struggle to meet mental health services demand
- A survey of more than 63,000 students at 92 schools nationwide by the American College Health Association showed that 40% of students indicated experiencing depression so acute that it was hard for them to function, and more than 60% of students said they had experienced overwhelming anxiety, reported Time. These statistics accompany older data that suggests that between 2009 and 2015, student visitation to college campus counseling centers increased by 30%, while enrollment increased by less than 6% over the same period.
- Campuses that typically sought to refer students to external providers are working to answer the call. For example, more than 2,700 students have opted into a free depression screening program offered to all incoming students at University of California, Los Angeles, which yielded more than 250 follow-ups from counselors about symptoms of severe depression, manic behavior or suicidal ideation.
- Keeping up with demand is a difficult proposition for all kinds of institutions. Most universities have one professional counselor for every 1,737 according to Time, which is leading to fatigue among counselors and therapists. “It’s a very different job than it was 10 years ago,” said Lisa Adams Somerlot, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling at the University of West Georgia.
Many students and campus supporters might assume that the answer is hiring more mental health therapists, or expanding resources to accommodate growing student need. But unlike housing or classroom accommodations, mental health services require certain processes and systems in order to guarantee student privacy and integrity for record keeping and access.
With increasing concern over campus safety, retention, graduation and public relations management, which are all tied to students being able to access mental health resources, campuses are in a potentially sensitive situation every time a teacher, a roommate or a police officer reports a student for erratic behavior. Institutions should be in position to compel a student to show up for an assessment, to have a licensed professional conduct the assessment, and to make a judgment about his or her fitness to be on campus all while maintaining Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws and not allowing an incident, which can become public, to be judged or criminalized by other campus stakeholders.
Presidents may want to consider partnerships with hospitals or private practices to expand services to students and faculty, and to seek advice on how these services can be marketed along with best practices for how to engage students who may be having challenges with mental health. Proactive service provision is the best way to protect a university from liability or criticism in the event of a crisis or controversial event concerning mental health.