Lack of resources from university health centers are turning away students from seeking mental health

One in 4 college students deal with some kind of mental health issue. Colleges across the country say they’re there to help, but the TODAY show’s six-month investigation from 22 students at 10 different universities revealed that students are getting kicked out of college for seeking help. Could the reason for this be the lack of resources from university health centers?

The coverage tells the story of Jasmine, a student at the University of Chicago, who began struggling with depression and went to seek help at the school’s counseling center. Unequipped and unprepared to handle her situation, they sent her off to the hospital where she was kept for two weeks. She returned to school forced to sign a contract that asked her to leave campus immediately. This forced mental leave is making its way to headlines of college campus newspapers all over the country. The narrative seems to be that students are reluctant to seek help at college counseling centers to risk the embarrassing and harsh reality of being sent home against their will.

This poses a very important question. What message are we sending students? It’s a message filled with fear of being sent to the psychiatric ward and kicked out of school. Only 60% of students struggling actually end up seeking help, but recent data collected by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University at 139 college and university counseling centers, from 2009-2010 through 2014-2015, reflects “slow but consistent” growth in students reporting depression, anxiety and social anxiety. And 20% of students seeking mental health treatment are taking up about half of all campus counseling center appointments.

While there are certainly growing concerns over other mental health issues affecting college students today, it’s safe to presume that a major issue in this situation is the lack of resources from university health centers to screen, identify and reduce risky behaviors. According to CDC data, risky behaviors are the primary cause of morbidity and mortality among adolescents and young adults. This is especially relevant for college students who are experiencing a new freedom and engaging in developmentally appropriate (but often risky) experimental behavior. The need is clear: effective preventive care for this age group must include accurate and consistent risk identification and behavior change counseling.

Many institutions launch annual campus-wide surveys to assess student alcohol use and required surveys such as Title IX sexual violence “climate” surveys. These surveys play a critical role in understanding health risks of students, and help to direct programming funds. However, for the student struggling with a specific issue such as depression, or sexual assault, there is no opportunity to disclosure their issues and receive intervention or follow-up—a missed opportunity with the potential for significant impact on the student’s health, quality of life, and academic success. Identifiable campus-wide surveys provide insight for the institution – and actionable intervention for the student before their issues grow to an unmanageable level.

Consistent and early identification and reduction of student risk behaviors is critical for University Health Centers. If we can better equip professionals at universities and colleges with the tools they need for early identification of students in need, we can shift the message we’re sending from fear to hope. Developed by experts and vetted by young adults, RAAPS and ACT tools address these issues and more, in language students relate to, in an online format, which allows students to feel comfortable answering honestly across the range of risk topics.

Universities are desperate for technology that helps identify risks and secures accurate data in a timely fashion. Universities and colleges face a unique challenge—caring for the physical and mental health of students and providing a safe environment that supports academic achievement, all with limited time and budgets.

An article from the Huffington Post says, “The campus centers are continually understaffed because their budgets are often based on some kind of historical calculation of the number of students enrolled and previous rates of students requesting appointments.”

These are serious issues. We hope you will join us in working together to ensure that all of the students in your population are screened for risky behaviors that impact their health and academic success. Don’t grapple with these issues alone. You have the opportunity to make a real and lasting positive change in your student’s health and your institution’s financial bottom line.

What are the next steps?

Download the Risky Business on Campus eBook to explore the top 10 considerations for identifying risk behaviors of college students and to find out how you can enhance your services to save a life.

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