Mental Health has become a critical issue on college campuses. Behavioral Medicine clinicians from Baylor University report that the number of students in crisis coming in for help has more than doubled—from 290 in the 2010–2011 academic year to 647 last year. And the number of students needing medical transports for psychiatric evaluation has also risen, from 68 in the 2010–2011 academic year to 120 last year.
“The demand for service has absolutely increased and that’s a national trend,” says Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine. “Students are not only coming to school with preexisting mental health issues, but with additional stressors and anxieties about performance and fitting in socially.”
At BU, the number of students coming to Behavioral Medicine in crisis has more than doubled in the last four years, from 290 in 2010–2011 to 647 in 2014–2015, an increase of 123 percent. Last year, 120 students were transported to hospitals for psychiatric evaluation after reporting suicidal thoughts, attempting suicide, or being in the grip of mania or psychosis. That number is nearly double the 68 medical transports in 2010–2011.
The 2012 Healthy Minds Study, an annual national online survey of college students about mental health issues created by the University of Michigan, found that 53 percent of BU students reported that there had been at least one day in the past month when emotional difficulty had impaired their academic performance and 24 percent reported three or more such days. About 36 percent said they thought they’d needed mental health help in the past year, but only 55 percent of that group said they had received help.
“If you look at the national data across a wide variety of different indicators, it’s a pretty strong conclusion that college students are reporting significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress-related problems than they have in the past,” says Gregg Henriques, a James Madison University psychology professor and director of its Combined-Integrated Doctoral Program in Clinical and School Psychology, who wrote about the topic for psychologytoday.com.
The number of cases of major mental illness such as bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders has remained fairly consistent, but the recent increase of anxiety related issues seems to point to a discernible decline in ability to cope and adapt to emotional experiences.
Experts point to a range of issues that range from the growing use of social media to enmeshed/overprotective parenting styles to the intensified focus of preparing for a successful career as explanations for the growing number of students experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
College has always been a time of transition, as students learn for the first time in their lives to navigate living on their own, juggling the demands of course work and a social life, adapting to roommates, figuring out healthy eating and sleeping habits. If stress is normal, why such an increase of students with mental illness? Clinicians interviewed for this series say they’re seeing a generational change. “I think a lot of kids don’t know what productive struggle is,” says Dori Hutchinson (SAR’85,’96), director of services at BU’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. “When it’s hard, they think, ‘Why is it so hard? What’s wrong with me?’”
The segment of student population that seems at increased risk of mental health issues include students from overseas and LGBTQ, because in addition to the transitions that all students encounter these students have additional transitions to consider.
Professional Help Is Available
Most college campuses have counseling centers or treatment centers that can address myriad mental health issues. Typically the treatment provided there is generally short term, ranging from a single appointment to a semester’s worth of care, although there is flexibility. In most cases services are free. Those students needing specialized treatment or long-term care are often referred to one of the other centers on campus or to an outside provider, most of which are required by insurance to charge a copay.
Signs that a student may need help
Withdrawal from social contact or an overall contrast in behavior
Not taking care of themselves (hygiene, etc.)
Sleeping all the time
Signs of self-injury (cutting, etc.)
Increasing substance abuse
Giving away possessions
Social media posts alluding to suicide (“I can’t go on this way…)
If you or someone in your family is experiencing any of the above signs, give me a call and schedule an appointment today. We offer guided help in identifying the patterns of anxiety and reprogramming our responses to the anxiety.