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Universities report continued spike in students seeking mental health services

Wichita State U. sees 73 percent increase in one year, Washington State U. 25 percent

Universities are reporting a significant uptick in students seeking mental health services after the American Psychological Association called the trend a “crisis” last fall.

Wichita State University’s CARE team, which supports students and faculty in situations that interfere with their ability to “function to their full potential,” reported a 73 percent increase in “care reports” between September 2022 and 2023, according to The Sunflower, the Kansas university’s student newspaper.

“Distress and a need for emotional support” were the two most frequent reasons for individuals seeking help, The Sunflower reported.

The College Fix asked the university media office what factors it believes are contributing to the rise, what mental health services it offers to students, and if it plans to expand these services. The office initially responded but did not provide comment by the time of publication.

Similarly, Washington State University also reported in October about a 25 percent increase in students seeking accommodations for disabilities, primarily for mental health issues, according to the university’s news site WSU Insider.

Rob Morales, associate director of student services for the Pullman campus, told WSU Insider he believes the increase is due, in part, to the fact that “this population of students is more vocal about the support they need and advocating for themselves.”

Eric Scott, director of student development at WSU Vancouver and manager of the Access Center, told the university that the return from pandemic-era learning to traditional learning also may contribute to the trend.

Some colleges and universities are trying to create “outside the box” solutions to respond to their students’ needs, according to the APA.

Santa Fe College in Florida, for example, offered Mental Health First Aid Training classes to students in October and November. The eight-hour course prepares students to assist their peers “who may be experiencing a mental health-related crisis or problem on campus,” according to the university website.

The Fix contacted the Santa Fe communications office asking for more information about the training, including why it was offered and what mental health services the college provides to students, but did not receive a response.

A number of colleges and universities are expanding mental health services to address the growing need.

This year, New Jersey colleges and universities began collaborating with the mental health service Uwill to offer “free, on-demand teletherapy for students,” according to The Daily Targum, Rutgers University’s student newspaper.

Uwill was founded in 2020 to “assist campus counseling centers as they face overwhelming student demand for mental health support,” according to its website.

This fall, the University of Michigan also announced a partnership with a similar mental health and suicide prevention program, JED Campus.

According to the Jed Foundation, which created JED Campus, the organization partners with college and university leaders to assess campus “needs, develop a customized strategic plan to build on existing strengths, and implement tools, strategies, and techniques that lead to measurable improvements in student mental health and a more connected community.”

Due to the high cost of hiring more mental health professionals, some colleges and universities are “leaning on faculty, staff, and even students to help bridge the gap,” TIME reported in September.

A report this year by the American Council on Education, “What works for improving mental health in higher education,” stated families provide influential support to college and university students.

Still, the council’s report stated it was “unable to identify any higher education interventions focused on families that were evaluated for impact on student mental health.”

The methods with the most proven effectiveness in helping students are individually oriented and thus more costly, according to the report. It also said “colleges and universities have important opportunities to support student mental health through improvements to the broader campus environment,” such as physically restricting means for suicide.

The Healthy Minds Study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2020 found more than 60 percent of American college students meet the criteria for one or more mental health problems.

The APA reported the increase in demand is not entirely negative, but “stigma around mental health issues also continues to drop, leading more people to seek help instead of suffering in silence.”

MORE: Psychology professors warn: Earlier smartphone use linked to worse adult mental health

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About the Author
Peter Baugher -- Franciscan University of Steubenville