Addressing the Shortage of Mental Health Services on College CampusesBy Amanda McMahon and Jessica Bonilla -
Among postsecondary students in the United States, the prevalence of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety disorders[i], has been increasing over the past few decades. As such, the supply of mental health services offered on college and university campuses is of particular concern, as one-fifth[ii] of undergraduate students experience a mental health condition, but many feel that they are unable to receive the care[iii] they need on campus. This brief seeks to identify the major factors affecting the supply and demand framework around mental health services on college and university campuses.
Comparing College Students: 2008 to 2017
Source: Gregg Henriques, The College Student Mental Health Crisis (Update), Psychology Today (Sussex Publishers, Nov. 18, 2018), https://www.psychologytoday.com
Students + Mental Health
The lack of access to mental health services on college campuses has garnered attention from students[iv], media[v] and political officials[vi]. Students on many college campuses across the nation are demanding[vii] shorter wait times and increased services. Recent data suggest that the prevalence of mental illness among college students has greatly increased[viii] over the past decade, partly evidenced by statistics showing the upward trend in the number of students who purposely injured themselves in 2016-2017 (27%[ix]) and the number of students who seriously considered suicide (34.7%[x]) in those years.
From 2009 to 2015, the utilization of counseling centers on college campuses increased by an average of 30-40%[xi], with no evidence attributing this to increases in volume of student enrollment. In fact, the total enrollment of college students decreased[xii] between 2010 and 2017 by 7%. Recent reports[xiii] identify Generation Z[xiv] as the population most at risk due to the insufficient supply of mental health services on college campuses. Growing up in an environment impacted by the post-9/11 era[xv], gun violence[xvi] throughout the United States, and the recession of 2008 has created a level of trauma that may be an underlying factor in greater demands for adequate mental health services on college campuses.
Campus Mental Health Initiatives
Multiple colleges and universities across the United States have reported increases in the demand for mental health services on campus. Boston University[xvii] saw a 40% increase in the number of students in crisis coming in for help on their campus from 2014 to 2015. Some schools are taking steps to meet this demand and make their mental health services more available and accommodating. For example, the University of Central Florida[xviii] sought out an extra $967,000 in funding from the state to hire nine additional counseling staffers, thereby decreasing their student-to-counselor ratio. Some colleges are taking a preventative approach, such as George Mason University[xix], which is focusing on promoting mental wellness through multiple campus initiatives, the development of Destress Fest[xx].
While efforts are being made by many colleges and universities to address the high demand for mental health services on college campuses, there are still students suffering from mental health conditions who are waiting weeks to see a counselor or who are going without services altogether. For future generations, it is worth exploring online or smartphone virtual counseling assistance services.
Overall, there is no singular solution to the multifaceted challenges students face in accessing mental health services. There are multiple factors that influence mental health resources on college campuses that require cooperation from many stakeholders to address this issue. However, one solution stakeholders can agree on are more financial resources targeted to the mental health needs of students. College/university leaders and policymakers will need to consider sustainable funding in order to address the mental health needs of their student populations.
[iii] Angela M. Parcesepe and Leopoldo J. Cabassa, “Public Stigma of Mental Illness in the United States: A Systematic Literature Review,” NIH-PA Author Manuscript (Washington, D.C.: National Institutes of Health, September 2014).
[iv] Jacqueline Basulto, “Improve Mental Health on Our Campuses,” Change.org (PBC, 2017), https://www.change.org
[v] Terry Gross, “College Students (And Their Parents) Face A Campus Mental Health ‘Epidemic,’” NPR (May 28, 2019), https://www.npr.org
[vi] “Rep. Trone Introduces Bipartisan Higher Education Mental Health Act of 2019,” U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Maryland (Nov. 4, 2019), https://trone.house.gov
[vii] Megan Tielking, “A Dangerous Wait: Colleges Can’t Meet Soaring Student Needs for Mental Health Are,” STAT (Feb. 6, 2017), https://www.statnews.com
[viii] Amy Scott, “Colleges See Growing Need for Mental Health Services,” Marketplace (Minnesota Public Radio, Aug. 23, 2017), https://www.marketplace.org
[ix] Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2017 Annual Report (University Park: CCMH, 2017).
[x] Anemona Hartocollis, “Feeling Suicidal, Students Turned to Their College. They Were Told to Go Home,” The New York Times (August 28, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com
[xi] Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2018 Annual Report (University Park: CCMH, 2018).
[xii] “The Condition of Education — Postsecondary Education — Postsecondary Students — Undergraduate Enrollment — Indicator,” NCES (U.S. Department of Education, May 2019), https://nces.ed.gov
[xiii] Natalie Schwartz, “Gen Z Takeover: As Demand for Mental Health Services Grows, Colleges Give Students New Tools,” Education Dive (Industry Dive, April 11, 2019), https://www.educationdive.com
[xiv] Michael Dimock, “Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins,” Pew Research Center (Jan. 17, 2019), https://www.pewresearch.org
[xv] Terry Gross, “College Students (And Their Parents) Face A Campus Mental Health ‘Epidemic,’” NPR (May 28, 2019), https://www.npr.org
[xvi] American Psychological Association, “Stress in America: Generation Z,” Stress in America Survey (2018).
[xvii] Joel Brown, “A Growing Number of College Students Are Seeking Help for Anxiety, Depression, Stress, and Psychological Disorders: BU Today,” Boston University (Trustees of Boston University, Oct. 1, 2016), http://www.bu.edu/articles/2016/mental-health-college-students/
[xviii] Gabrielle Russon, “UCF Seeks More Money for Mental Health Counseling,” Orlando Sentinel (Nov. 3, 2016), https://www.orlandosentinel.com
[xix] Natalie Schwartz, “Gen Z Takeover: As Demand for Mental Health Services Grows, Colleges Give Students New Tools,” Education Dive (Industry Dive, April 11, 2019), https://www.educationdive.com
[xx] “Health and Wellness,” George Mason University (George Mason University, n.d.), https://www2.gmu.edu/student-life/health-and-wellness