Most of us think of college as an exciting time of life. It’s a time of new beginnings and of pursuing long-awaited hopes and dreams. Indeed, college is a place where all these things can happen. However, the demographic landscape of college and universities today presents a different picture than it did 10 years ago.
In addition to a student population that is much more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and age, institutions of higher learning are also admitting students who are overwhelmed and more prone to mental health concerns than those of previous years. That is to say, the number of college students with mental health disorders, whether diagnosed or not, has been increasing. The American College Health Association (2012) reported the following from their most recent national survey: 31.6% of students felt so depressed that it was difficult to function within the last 12 months, 61.9% felt very sad, 86.8% felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, 46.5% felt things were hopeless, 51.3% felt overwhelming anxiety, and 7.5% seriously considered suicide. This is not the “typical” picture that normally comes to mind when one thinks of the contemporary college student, but it is a realistic picture.
This situation has left many wondering what can be done to address mental health concerns among college students and make campuses nationwide healthier, happier communities. Perhaps the best way to deal with this situation is a comprehensive approach to support students with mental health concerns. Institutions of higher education should consider expanding campus-wide education programs about mental health issues and treatment available on campus and in the community. Further, colleges and universities should examine their current levels of funding and personnel for key offices, such as counseling centers, services for students with disabilities, and other programs that may have a stake in serving this student population. The Student Support and Referral Team here at Montgomery County Community College is an example of a program founded to address the needs of these students and the college community at large. Institutions may have to consider increasing personnel and budget lines in these areas to ensure student needs are met. Also, post-secondary institutions may need to examine their relationships with community mental health agencies and providers and establish or strengthen partnerships, as the case may dictate.
If steps like these are taken to make certain that students with mental health concerns are served well in all areas of college life, perhaps those bleak numbers cited above will begin to drop. In the end, a college campus is a community, and we all have a stake in this matter. A step toward growth for one is a step toward growth for us all.
American College Health Association (2012). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment: Reference group executive summary spring 2012. Baltimore: American College Health Association
(This post written by Joseph Kornoski, Counselor)