In case you missed it this morning taking your possibly stressed-out kids to school, check out On Point’s excellent segment about the mental health crisis among college students.
The bottom line: undergrads are struggling, many of them suffering from mild, moderate and severe mental illness. And colleges are scrambling to figure out ways to cope, from setting up automated counseling kiosks to launching campaigns promoting the message that it’s all right to ask for help.
A special report, “An Epidemic of Anguish,” published in The Chronicle of Education is featured on the show:
“Colleges are trying to meet the demand by hiring more counselors, creating group-therapy sessions to treat more students at once, and arranging for mental-health coordinators who help students manage their own care. A couple of colleges have even installed mental-health kiosks,which look like ATMs and allow students to get a quick screening for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports that MIT, a well-known hotbed of stress, is enhancing its mental health services for students:
Starting this academic year, the Cambridge school will provide more mental health counselors, create a drop-in center for students to talk with professionals, and make it easier for students to seek professional services off campus.
The changes come after campus officials reviewed the results of a survey administered to students in April and May, which found that 24 percent of undergraduate respondents have been diagnosed with one or more mental health disorders by a health professional.
The reality that many college students suffer from mental illness isn’t exactly new. Earlier this year, for instance, researchers at UCLA surveyed 150,000 college freshman and found an increase in the number of students who report they were “frequently depressed.”
I asked child psychiatrist Dr. Steve Schlozman, associate director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, about the UCLA report back in February and whether depression among college-age kids is getting worse, and he said: “We are reaping what we sow.” He added:
The pressure we put on high school kids to get into college and the pressure then that college follows up with is highly correlated with increased rates of emotional distress that can become full-blown depression. Also, the age of onset of depression is the exactly the age of onset of college — there’s a perfect storm of stressors. Finally, there’s a greater willingness to come forward, which is good. So, despite the fact that we’re using the word ‘depression’ a little more glibly, I’d rather have that and then rule out clinical depression through appropriate channels, like college health services, than miss cases that can lead to real suffering and possibly even death.
Now, Schlozman says, it makes sense for colleges to boost their efforts to make mental health services more accessible. In an email, he writes:
It makes sound ethical, medical and common sense for colleges and universities to increase their surveillance for mental health challenges as the school year begins, and to provide easy and unfettered access for ongoing care. Ideally, a comprehensive plan that has multiple and coordinated entry points and multiple and coordinated means by which care is delivered is the best way to provide the essential help that the last two decades have shown us is sorely needed on college campuses.