According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2014 annual report, anxiety is the number one concern of college students’ mental health needs today, with depression placing second. As college counseling centers continue to deal with ever-expanding workloads and needs of the college students they serve, it’s concerning that so many students are facing serious mental illness, such as anxiety and depression.

University counseling centers were originally setup to help students primarily with academic and relationship concerns, as well as just the issues that arise from living on your own for the first time in your life. But in the past two decades, these centers — whose services are usually provided at little or no cost to students, covered by their student fees — have begun serving more and more students with serious mental illness.

The most recent data comes from a survey that was conducted in 2013-2014 and included over 101,000 college students seeking services from 2,900 clinicians providing services at 140 college and university counseling centers.

In the survey, clinicians identified that for clients who sought out counseling services, anxiety was the top-most concern of nearly 20 percent of all college clients. Nearly 16 percent of students complained of depression, while another 9 percent came to the counseling center for a relationship issue.

Top concerns graph

Stress was the top issue for nearly 6 percent of college students, while nearly 5 percent of students complained that their academic performance was their main issue. Family, interpersonal functioning, grief/loss and mood instability rounded out concerns expressed by more than 3 percent of college students seeking services.

The New York Times also covered the story, noting the rise of anxiety concerns among students:

Anxiety has become emblematic of the current generation of college students, said Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.

“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Dr. Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”

The good news is that due to mental illness stigma becoming more and more of a non-issue amongst younger generations, more young people have no problem seeking out services for these concerns. The bad news is that we live in a society where providing coordinated and integrated care for mental illness remains firmly stuck in the past.

College counseling centers are usually not well-integrated within their local community of care. And students often are reluctant to seek care away from their university, since such care might only be affordable by using insurance — usually, their parents. Despite the reduction in stigma and uptick in those seeking care, there still are limits on what a person might want to share with their parents, including their mental health battles.

Counseling centers are equipped (and funded) only to offer fairly short-term treatments. Yet more and more students are turning to these under-funded centers for their care, resulting in long wait lists, or less-than-ideal short-term care.

In an effort to cater to the rise in the number of students seeking services, more colleges are offering workshops (for psychoeducation) and groups to help treat these rising numbers. It’s no wonder — the students coming to them are more informed and better-educated about mental health treatments than at any previous time in history. As the Times article notes, “Half of clients at mental health centers in their most recent report had already had some form of counseling before college. One-third have taken psychiatric medication.”

We hope universities continue to expand their services and get creative in better serving their young adult students. After all, these are some of the most important, formative years for the students.

 

For Further Reading

Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2014 Annual Report (PDF)