Penn State study says some colleges struggle to meet growing need for mental health services

    A new report on the mental health of American college students finds that many are seeking help for serious conditions when they show up at campus counseling centers. The data is gathered annually by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

    “One out of every two students coming into counseling centers nationally has already been in counseling before,” said Ben Locke, who heads the center. “One of three have already taken a psychiatric medication, one out of four have self-injured, one out of three has seriously considered suicide at some point in their lives,” he added.Anxiety and depression were the most common mental health challenges for students.

    The Center for Collegiate Mental Health was founded about ten years ago to address questions around the increase in prevalence of mental health issues among college students. “Despite a lot of press on this issue, there was no actual data you could go to, to see what was actually happening,” said Locke. “We began by standardizing the data that counseling centers collect, and built the infrastructure to compile these reports.”

    Locke says this year’s report surveyed more than 100,000 students from 140 colleges, and found that many colleges and universities are not prepared to deal with an increased need for mental health services.

    Locke explained that on some campuses, mental health care is rationed because there’s not enough staff .

    “You can only come for five sessions or you have to wait two or three weeks, and then we can only see you a couple of times,” he said are examples of the restrictions students . “That wouldn’t happen in a health setting where somebody would say ‘I have strep throat,’ and they’d be send away for a couple of weeks, and when they come back they’ll be given half a prescription.”

    Locke says tracking data on how many students seek help — and what their needs are may push colleges to expand their mental health services.

    Several potential theories could explain the increased prevalence of mental health problems on college campuses. One is sheer numbers, more people are going to college than ever before. Another potential reason is that young people suffering from mental illness are receiving better care and interventions than in previous decades, allowing them to graduate from high school and going to college. Locke says financial burdens and stress to succeed could be yet another explanation of the increase in problems.

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