Colleges beginning to address student mental health issues

29 Jul

When parents are packing their children off to college, some are sending children to school who have some severe mental health and emotional issues. Trip Gabriel has an article in the New York Times which outlines the issues some students face while they are at college. In Mental Health Needs Growing At Colleges Gabriel reports:

Stony Brook is typical of American colleges and universities these days, where national surveys show that nearly half of the students who visit counseling centers are coping with serious mental illness, more than double the rate a decade ago. More students take psychiatric medication, and there are more emergencies requiring immediate action.

It’s so different from how people might stereotype the concept of college counseling, or back in the ’70s students coming in with existential crises: who am I?” said Dr. Hwang, whose staff of 29 includes psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers. “Now they’re bringing in life stories involving extensive trauma, a history of serious mental illness, eating disorders, self-injury, alcohol and other drug use.”

Experts say the trend is partly linked to effective psychotropic drugs (Wellbutrin for depression, Adderall for attention disorder, Abilify for bipolar disorder) that have allowed students to attend college who otherwise might not have functioned in a campus setting.

There is also greater awareness of traumas scarcely recognized a generation ago and a willingness to seek help for those problems, including bulimia, self-cutting and childhood sexual abuse.

The need to help this troubled population has forced campus mental health centers — whose staffs, on average, have not grown in proportion to student enrollment in 15 years — to take extraordinary measures to make do. Some have hospital-style triage units to rank the acuity of students who cross their thresholds. Others have waiting lists for treatment — sometimes weeks long — and limit the number of therapy sessions.

Some centers have time only to “treat students for a crisis, bandaging them up and sending them out,” said Denise Hayes, the president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors and the director of counseling at the Claremont Colleges in California.

It’s very stressful for the counselors,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like why you got into college counseling.”

A recent survey by the American College Counseling Association found that a majority of students seek help for normal post-adolescent trouble like romantic heartbreak and identity crises. But 44 percent in counseling have severe psychological disorders, up from 16 percent in 2000, and 24 percent are on psychiatric medication, up from 17 percent a decade ago.

The most common disorders today: depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse, attention disorders, self-injury and eating disorders.

If a student has had prior problems, the student and family should have a plan for dealing with issues like depression or eating disorders while the student is at college. Often that might include therapy sessions with a counselor near the college. Often, students and families do not want to seek help because many feel there is a stigma to mental illness.

Stephen Cesar has written an informative Los Angeles Times article about a new program to reach students with problems. In UC reaching out to depressed students online, Cesar reports:

The anonymous online conversation began after the student revealed that he planned to kill himself.

“What should I do?” the sophomore asked a counselor at his Midwest college. “I figure you will probably tell me that killing myself is not a good idea, and I know that. But it does seem like a good option at the moment.”

The counselor hoped to persuade him to come in to see her, but first she had to build trust. They continued the discussion on the website, a tool used by the school to reach troubled students.

“It sounds as though you are very stressed and sometimes just having a safe ‘ear to bend’ is helpful?,” she wrote back.

It took more than a month, but eventually the student walked into the counseling center.

The online effort had worked.

In the fall, about 70 universities nationwide will have the service, including all 10 University of California undergraduate campuses. It is designed to bridge conversation between students who need help and those equipped to provide it.

Created by the New York City-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program aims to identify troubled students anonymously through their responses to a voluntary survey they will receive a link to in an email that will be sent to everyone admitted to UC.

If survey answers raise red flags, a counselor will initiate contact and invite the student to continue communicating, still anonymously, via a dialogue on the website.

The goal is to have the student agree to a meeting. Studies suggest that about 80% of students who commit suicide had not sought services from counseling centers on their campuses, said Ann Haas, a project specialist for the foundation.,0,693193.story

The JED Foundation has some excellent resources for both parents and students dealing with mental health issues.

ULifeline has information about dealing with college mental health issues:

Complete a self-assessment to learn telling insights about your current state of mind…


Learn more about protecting your emotional health and what to do if you or a friend are struggling with mental health issues. Continue…

Check out the Half of Us campaign, a project with mtvU that includes videos of your favorite artists and other students sharing how they’ve coped with mental health issues. Continue…


Sign in or Find out more about joining ULifeline

Parents must recognize the signs of distress and get help for their child. If you are a student in distress, get help because there are many different therapies to get you back on track.


College Students Exhibiting More Severe Mental Illness, Study Finds

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain


Mental Health Issues In Student Advising

How to Handle Holiday Stress

Resources for Parents & Students

Trauma Resources

Evaluation Resources

Mental Health Screening Tools

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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