Colleges strain to keep up with students' mental health concerns

Colleges strain to keep up with students' mental health concerns

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(HealthDay News) -- As stigmas surrounding mental health issues have eased, more U.S. college students are seeking help for emotional problems, a new study finds.

Researchers analyzed data from the Healthy Minds Study, an annual online survey involving more than 150,000 students from 196 campuses.

In 2017, 36 percent of students were diagnosed with mental health issues, compared to 22 percent in 2007, the study found. Over the same time span, the percentage of students who reported suicidal thoughts almost doubled -- from 6 percent to 11 percent.

And the percentage of students seeking mental health treatment rose from 19 percent to 34 percent, straining college health services coast to coast.

The most common location for students to get mental health services was on campus, the study found. Nearly 12 percent used campus counseling center services in 2016-17; about 9 percent used other mental health services; and about 1 percent used emergency psychiatric services.

One reason for the increased patient load: Students reported feeling less stigmatized for seeking help. In 2007, 64 percent said "most people think less of a person who has received mental health treatment," compared to 46 percent in 2017.

Similarly, 11 percent said in 2007 that they'd "think less of a person who has received mental health treatment." Ten years later, only 6 percent said they felt that way.

"The trends revealed in this study have strained counseling centers across the country, as many are under-resourced and operate at full capacity with waitlists for much of the year," the study authors wrote.

In addition to expanding the centers' capacity, increased use of "preventive and digital mental health services, such as those delivered via mobile apps," could help reduce waitlists, the researchers suggested.

Sarah Ketchen Lipson, an assistant professor of health law, policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health, led the study.

It was published online Nov. 5 in the journal Psychiatric Services in Advance.

More information

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has more about college students and mental health.

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