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Colleges Increase Their Focus on Student Mental Health

  • August 15, 2019
  • Anxiety, Depression, Patients and Families

As many students head off to college this fall, a new survey finds that student mental health is getting more attention among college leaders. Eight out of 10 colleges are placing a greater priority on student mental health now compared to three years ago, according to a recent survey of college presidents from the American Council on Education. Most college presidents said their staff and faculty are spending more time addressing mental health concerns that three years ago. More than 70%, of the more than 400 presidents surveyed, said they had reallocated or identified additional funding to address the issue.

Many campus counseling centers have recently seen increases in demand for their services. A study in Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found that the percentage of college students with a mental health diagnosis increased from 22% in 2007 to 36% in 2017, and students receiving mental health treatment increased from 19% to 34% over the same period.

Poor mental health can affect students’ ability to learn and thrive academically. It can cause difficulties with memory, decision-making and creativity.

College presidents are hearing about student mental health issues more, according to the survey. About 40% hear about student mental health issues a few times a month and about one in four hear about these issues once a week or more. Depression and anxiety were identified as the specific mental health and wellness issues of greatest concern. Other top concerns included addiction/substance use, food insecurity, suicide, housing insecurity, non-suicidal self-injury and eating disorders. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

When asked about how they would use additional resources if they were available, more than half of the presidents said they would hire more staff to address mental health issues, particularly counseling center staff. While many people on campus may be involved in address mental health concerns, the survey found that the vice president of student affairs or dean of students is typically the official most involved in addressing student mental health issues. Others with responsibility include the chief academic officer, chief of campus police, chief diversity officer, and vice president of human resources.

For information on helping students cope with mental health challenges on campus, see the APA blog College Students: Coping with Stress and Anxiety on Campus and a resource from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Managing a Mental Health Condition in College.


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