Sound Mind, Sound Student Body: Challenges and strategies for managing the growing mental health crisis on college and university campuses

Kristen Domonell's picture
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Before entering college, Nicole, a junior at a small liberal arts college in New England, had been getting treatment for anorexia for two years. Finding a college with adequate mental health services was one of her biggest concerns, so she was relieved when the director of counseling services at the college she selected promised her a full treatment, complete with a weekly dietician meeting and regular sessions with a psychiatrist and a therapist.

“I entered [college] full of hope, but was immediately disenchanted with the counselors,” she says, noting that the dietician was in such high demand, she could only see her every three weeks. By the second semester of her freshman year, Nicole had relapsed.

“It was clear that there was no system in place,” she says. “The physician did not find my symptoms serious enough, and the psychiatrist had found another job.”

Nicole is now seeing a psychiatrist at school who she feels “makes a great effort to meet the medical needs of students on campus.” Yet, she is still unsatisfied with the counseling services as a whole, specifically with graduate student interns working in the center who she feels are inexperienced and not equipped to diagnose complex disorders, let alone identify symptoms.

Nicole isn’t alone in needing on-campus mental health services. One in four college-aged Americans has a diagnosable mental illness, and severe mental illness is more common among college students than it was a decade ago, according to the American Psychological Association. Meanwhile, state and local funding for higher ed declined by 7 percent, to $81.2 billion, in 2012, and per-student funding dropped to the lowest level in 25 years, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

With an increased demand for counseling services paired with budget restraints, experiences like Nicole’s aren’t uncommon.

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