Dealing with increased expectations, social pressures both in-person and online and astronomical education costs, all while simultaneously facing major life choices and changes has led to a dangerous epidemic of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues in America’s youth.
During college, a majority of students are living on their own for the first time, possibly in an entirely new state or area where they don’t know anyone. They spend nearly half of the time that they are awake on classwork, and the school day never really ends until breaks for holidays and in between semesters.
Struggling to keep up with the workload and these significant lifestyle adjustments has become the norm. While they may frequently be surrounded by a lot of people, many students often feel quietly isolated and lack meaningful connection with others.
Compounding the problem, the pressures to succeed and fit in make these feelings hard to express, and life becomes even more confusing and discouraging. This is causing record rates of anxiety and depression that greatly impact students’ quality of life.
As an adolescent or young adult goes through these challenges, parents may write off symptoms of mental disorders as “growing pains” or “going through a phase.” However, when developing mental health disorders are left untreated, they can result in dire consequences that impact the entire family in the long run.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 to 24. In 2015, the suicide rate among teens reached a 40-year high. In addition, only 20 percent of children with diagnosable mental or behavioral disorders ever receive treatment, which leaves about 12 million who don’t.
Similar research amongst higher education students done by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health revealed that nearly 1 in 5 college students experience anxiety or depression. Others may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, leading to problems like drug abuse and addiction or eating disorders.
With mental health issues peaking at alarming rates for the younger generation, there needs to be a serious, concerted effort to curve this epidemic.
Unfortunately, the growing demand for mental health care on campuses is not being met with adequate services. With only about 13 percent of colleges offering full-time, in-house mental health services, students can often go weeks waiting for an initial consultation with a therapist.
Schools across the country are simply struggling to keep up. In Florida, only 10 out of the 12 state schools meet the recommendation of at least one therapist per 1,000 students. That is already an absurd and unsustainable ratio, and we’re failing to meet even that. But Florida’s situation is not an anomaly, it’s the norm and indicative of the widespread lack of access that is keeping students from quality mental health services across the country.
At the same time, corporate America is progressively recognizing the importance of mental wellness in the adult workforce and increasing mental health services, expanding employees’ insurance options to include therapy, and incorporating mental health into their core values.
Colleges and universities should take note and follow suit. This growing emphasis on the value of mental health care should not be looked at as a trend — it is and should be seen as a necessity.
As young people and parents begin to recognize the need for and demand these services, universities must offer them in order to keep up and remain competitive. New reports indicate that students are now taking into consideration what mental health service options will be available when choosing a college to attend. In fact, about 28 percent of parents of teenagers are also thinking more about mental health services on campus, when researching schools for their child. For teens who see a therapist in high school, the transition to college can be particularly difficult because it often means losing access to their therapist, in addition to the emotional support of family and friends.
However, there is a devastating shortage of mental health care providers across the country. With the demand for therapy and the number therapists being incompatible, we must turn to alternative options to ensure that everyone gets the help they need.
Relatively new to the scene, telemedicine provides a more flexible and often better solution that can assist students through challenging times. Instead of waiting weeks just to meet a therapist, remote therapy provided through modern technology can provide immediate, yet equally impactful mental health care. Many universities already use mobile apps to allow students to check their grades, contact professors and even see what’s on the menu in the cafeteria. Why not incorporate something as important as mental health services, as well?
Telemedicine also provides a unique means for continuity of care. For the small percentage of students who are able to receive therapy on-site at school, they unfortunately lose access to these local therapists once they leave campus for summer break or to study abroad. But with apps that provide universal, mobile mental health services, students can still reach their therapists anywhere across the country or even the world.
With adolescent suicide and mental illness rates skyrocketing, schools simply cannot afford to wait to address critical mental health needs. To ensure the future of the next generation, we must provide learning environments that are safe for students not only physically, but mentally as well.