College Mental Health Initiatives — Outreach to At-Risk Students

“Make the most of the next four years, they will be the best of your life,” say many parents as their children head off to college. And while choosing partying over studying used to be the primary concern of students and parents, now coping with a mental illness is one of the new norms for many college students.

According to epidemiological research, most mental health disorders emerge between the ages of 14 and 24 (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, Merikangas, & Walters, 2005). So, in addition to adjusting to college life, many freshmen also must manage the onset of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and/or schizophrenia. And mental disorders in college-age students also are increasing in severity.

In a 2012 survey of 765 college students from 48 states and Washington, D.C., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the largest grassroots mental health advocacy organization in the United States, documented the following diagnoses: depression (27%); bipolar disorder and dysthymia (24%); other, including borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and autism spectrum disorder (12%); anxiety (11%); schizophrenia (6%); PTSD (6%); ADHD (5%); and substance abuse disorder (1%).

….Added to the typical college stressors is the stigma that students with mental health issues face from peers, faculty, and other college staff. “From our survey respondents, we learned that stigma remains the No.1 barrier to students accessing mental health services and supports,” Gruttadaro notes. Fear of this stigma prevents students from disclosing their mental health diagnosis, according to the NAMI survey. Since disclosure is legally required to receive mental health assistance and accommodations, students who hide their mental health issues may be less successful, or even drop out. The NAMI survey revealed that 45% of students who dropped out of college for mental health reasons did not receive accommodations, and 50% did not access mental health services and supports.

By Jennifer Van Pelt, MA, Social Work Today

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