More on College and Mental Health Woes
> 6/27/2006 10:52:31 AM

Yesterday, the Kansas City Star took a look at the issue of depression and other mental health disorders as they effect colleges and universities. The headline, "Mental health woes rise" implies that there has been a significant gain in the number of students suffering from depression and problems like bipolar disorder, eating disorders or anxiety disorders. While the article makes a fair point that medication is allowing those previously diagnosed with a mental health problem to attend college in larger numbers that before, the large gains in students presenting for treatment probably has as much, if not more, to do with increased awareness of depression and mental health problems as well as increased awareness of the availability of treatment.

Colleges are putting students into higher stress situations than before, and life in general is often lived at a more frenetic and competitive pace than in past years. Because of this, it is the responsibility of colleges and universities to provide outlets for stress relief, but also treatment options for when problems do arise. Cost, as always, becomes the issue. And as the article states, in many states, Kansas being one, there are often many students who enroll without the health insurance that would at least provide some options.

So, the good news is that while there may be more students than in the past dealing with mental health issues at college, those students in need are seeking help in higher numbers. The bad news is that schools are often not meeting the demands on their mental healthcare systems. Dealing with the problem will mean a two headed approach: 1) continued outreach that preaches early identification and preventative treatment and 2) more creative options for treatment.

It is clear that finding and reaching out to those most at risk or most likely to develop depression and/or other mental health problems can save money in the long run. And as the stigma of mental illness continues to be washed away, we will see more kids recognizing symptoms and signs and seeking out the different options.

Schools need to be ready to meet these demands, even if it means getting creative. Training a staff of peer educators and counselors is one option. Teaming with psychology departments or other health care related departments, university health centers and clinics can find a wealth of motivated and interested students. Encouraging students to seek out a mentor, a professor or another strong presence that can guide them when the going gets rough can also begin to address the problem. Wise use of limited funds can go a long way, and as we have made clear in the past, the onus is on universities to meet students half-way in dealing with the surge of students ready to face their illnesses.


I've been reading "Generation Me" by Jean M. Twenge, who bases her argument on a series of meta-analyses of cross-generational measures of anxiety, among other things. I think you'd find it interesting.Peer counseling and coaching can do a lot, as can a robust advising system.
Posted by: Liz 6/28/2006 1:39:14 AM

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