Colleges Struggling to Keep Up with Student Mental Health Needs

The Associated Press gathered five years’ worth of data from 39 universities and find students receiving mental health treatment has grown by 35%.

Colleges Struggling to Keep Up with Student Mental Health Needs

A review of more than three dozen universities found more students are turning to their school for mental health needs and clinics are struggling to meet the demand.

AP News requested five years’ worth of data from counseling clinics or health centers at each state’s largest public university. It received annual statistics from 39 universities dating back to 2014.

The results show most are working to increase its services but many are outpaced by the demand. Since 2014, the number of students receiving mental health treatment has grown by 35% while the total enrollment has grown by just 5%.

On some campuses, the number of students seeking treatment has nearly doubled over the past five years. The increase has been linked to many possible factors, including reduced stigma around mental health, rising rates of depression and anxiety, social media, and fear of mass shootings, among others.

In 2018, almost 1 in 10 students were seeking help while the number of licensed counselors only increased from 16 to 19 over five years. For some schools, one counselor is available for every 4,000 students. It is recommended schools have a minimum of one counselor per 1,500 students, according to AP News.

“It’s an incredible struggle, to be honest,” said Jamie Davidson, associate vice president for student wellness at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has 11 licensed counselors for 30,000 students. “It’s stressful on our staff and our resources. We’ve increased it, but you’re never going to talk to anyone in the mental health field who tells you we have sufficient resources.”

Many schools’ data showed it also takes weeks to get an initial appointment. Some schools have adopted a model that provides same-day screenings but further treatment can take weeks.

In 2018 at the University of Washington at Seattle, students waited for an average of three weeks. At Utah Valley University in Orem, students waited an average of over four weeks.

Utah Valley student Ashtyn Aure told AP News she was suffering from anxiety attacks and hadn’t slept for days when she went to check in to the school’s mental health clinic. She was told the wait list stretched for months, so she left without receiving help.

“I was so obviously distressed, and that was the place I was supposed to go,” she recalled. “What do you do after that? Do you go to the hospital? Do you phone a friend?”

Thankfully, Aure was able to turn to her church, which helped her find therapy at an outside clinic.

“If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know,” she said.

Dr. William Erb, senior director of student health services at Utah Valley, said cases like Aure’s aren’t uncommon.

“We train, review and revise these procedures so that situations like this can be avoided as much as possible,” he said.

The problem for some schools in adding more counselors is the lack of funds. Many campus clinics don’t charge students and generate little to no revenue. AP News’ analysis found although campus counseling budgets have increased by approximately 25% over the last five years, the cost-per-student varies significantly from $200 to less than $40.

To address the lack of counselors and changes in how mental health is viewed, some universities are steering students toward group therapy or anxiety workshops. Other counseling centers offer yoga or train students to help each other.

“We’re reframing what mental health looks like at a school. It’s not necessarily 10 therapists sitting in offices,” said Erb.

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