Many Students do not Seek Help
> 6/25/2007 10:44:52 AM

Last week, we drew attention to the inadequate vagueness of a joint report by the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services on campus mental health services. The Virginia Tech tragedy brought out a lot of emotion and well-meaning urges to provide better support for students, but scientific study of the current state of affairs is what we really need if effective changes are to be made. One such study, conducted on the fairly representative student body of the University of Michigan, is set to appear in next month's issue of Medical Care.

The study surveyed 2785 students to determine the extent of their mental health problems and their use of campus counseling services. This study's focus on students, who have access to free counseling services, yields valuable information on the reasons for the over-arching question of why those with mental illness donít always seek treatment. The cost disincentive has been shorn to reveal some interesting social factors. For example, students from a low economic background were less likely to seek help. This predictor would have been hard to detect in the general population, where people with low incomes are often unable to afford therapy. Asian students and men were other groups less likely to seek help. Further study needs to be done to determine whether social taboos or lack of knowledge suppress help-seeking in these groups.

Even for the general student body, there are a large number of students not getting the aid they need. 37%-84% (varying by the type of problem) of students with significant levels of anxiety and depression did not take advantage of any services. Before these services can be improved, we need to understand why and the extent to which they are underutilized. A larger study of 12-15 universities is planned for this fall, and we can hope that there will more detailed answers to these questions.

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