Increase in mentally ill students in U.S. colleges/universities

mental illness in college students
Most people don’t know this, but mentally ill students are an increasing problem on U.S. colleges and universities.
A year before I retired as a professor, I was so spooked by a male student in my evening class that I asked campus police to escort him from the auditorium-style classroom. I actually carried a gun in my brief case to class that evening.
In April 2015, Yahoo reported that 94% of college counseling directors said they’ve seen an increase of students with severe psychological problems, according to the National Survey of College Counseling Centers 2014. Thousands of students were hospitalized for psychiatric conditions by counseling centers that same year.
More and more students are showing up to college with one or more mental illnesses. Today’s college freshmen are significantly more likely to report that they are struggling with depression than even their predecessors of just five years ago, and college counseling centers are straining under the pressure of serving kids with serious mental health issues. 
The increasing problem is attributed to a number of factors:

  1. Medical breakthroughs have made antidepressants and other psychiatric medications widely available, enabling young people with mental illnesses that might have prevented them from going to college a few decades ago, to enroll in colleges and universities.
  2. Getting accepted to a good college has become harder over the past 15 years, which means stress.
  3. Indulgent parents: Some college counselors say they see students who are less resilient than earlier generations and unable to cope with failure — from which they have been cushioned by their over-involved parents before they leave home at 18.
  4. Tulane University president Michael Fitts thinks that the breakdown of religious and family support structures over the past few decades has left some kids feeling lost. The trend toward going to college farther away from home separates students from their social support networks even more.

All of which raises the question of to what extent is a college responsible for its students’ mental health and non-academic life.

College counseling didn’t really exist until the late 1940s, when the federal government created hundreds of counseling centers to help guide a new generation of G.I. Bill-funded students arriving on campus. By the end of the 1960s, about half of all colleges provided some mix of vocational advice and psychological help.

But staffing levels haven’t kept pace with the increase in students who need help. Recently, overwhelmed universities have begun to put limits on how often students can access their mental health services, to cut down on the weeks of waiting for appointments. Some college counseling centers mandate “resiliency training” courses that teach students how to deal with failure and setbacks before they are granted access to a counselor. 

“Twenty to 25 years ago, counseling centers tended to see students as long as they needed to be seen,” said Robert Gallagher, who has been surveying the nation’s college counseling directors for decades at the University of Pittsburgh. “As the demand for counseling services increased, and the complexity of the problems that students were bringing to centers grew, many centers began to promote themselves as a ‘session-limited’ service, and much more staff training went into moving students through the therapeutic process more quickly.”

Now, 30% of center directors in Gallagher’s survey say they have limits on how many times students can be seen at their facility. An additional 43% said they promote their centers as a short-term counseling service, even if they don’t explicitly forbid students from using them long-term.

Here are some alarming statistics on the mental health of college students:
Percentage of students who frequently felt depressed:

  • 2005: 7%
  • 2014: 9.5%

Percentage who felt overwhelmed:

  • 2005: 26.8%
  • 2014: 34.6%

Percentage who rated their emotional health “above average”:

  • 2005: 60.8%
  • 2014: 50.7%

According to a 2014 Psychology Today article, rates of anxiety and depression have sky-rocketed in the last few decades. A 2013 survey of college students found that 57% of women and 40% of men reported experiencing episodes of “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, and 33% of women and 27% of men reported a period in the last year of feeling so depressed it was difficult to function. Studies suggest that between a quarter and a third of students meet criteria for an anxiety or depressive illness during their college experience.
One of the most dangerous aspects of depression and mental health concerns in general is suicide. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA) the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s and suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students. That study also found 9.4% of students reported seriously considering attempted suicide at least once in a 12 month period, a marked increase from several decades ago.
~Éowyn

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Steven Broiles
5 years ago

As a former teacher in the New York City public school system, I can tell you that teachers were on their own. They do not qualify for disability according to State Law. Deans and administrators cannot punish students. The onus is all on the teacher: Teachers get it from students, their parents and administrators. That being said, this is what happens with Sociological Man: All morality is done away with; There are no value judgments. There are only statements as to what is. It’s no wonder that learned helplessness is institutionalized. Then mental illness moves in to fill the power… Read more »

DCG
Admin
DCG
5 years ago

“…overwhelmed universities have begun to put limits on how often students can access their mental health services, to cut down on the weeks of waiting for appointments.” The future with Obamacare.

MomOfIV
MomOfIV
5 years ago

Another factor that contributes to mental illness is nutrition. A lot of mental illness is associated with nutritional deficiencies. So much of our food today is not as nutritionally dense as it used to be…I believe the biggest culprit is what is used on our crops: Monsanto’s RoundUP (glyphosate). RoundUp is a vitamin and mineral chelator and basically starves the weeds of nutrients which causes them to die. The problem is that it doesn’t discriminate against weeds only…it attacks all life, including crops that are used for our food. There are a growing number of people in this country who… Read more »

CalGirl
5 years ago
Reply to  MomOfIV

Dear Mom….you don’t have to “add” anything to our food chain to stunt a brain…for YEARS now my fist period kids have come into classes sucking Mexican lolliops, eating hot Cheetos…sucking any other kind of lollipop…or crunching chips of all kinds….and all this at 7:30 AM (when my school starts). These are largely kids who have “free Federally-funded breakfasts.” They THROW AWAY their free “good” breakfasts into the garbage (my principal has often retrieved TONS of pre-packaged UNOPENED food there to keep for emergency “low blood sugar” incidents that occur each day). Nutrition education comes from HOME in the first… Read more »

MomOfIV
MomOfIV
5 years ago
Reply to  CalGirl

What horrible diets! And I bet those types of kids are the ones who have the chronic acne, weight issues, behavioral, psychological, and emotional problems….and definitely inability to focus. It’s a shame they aren’t taught the importance of a healthy diet at home and how it affects the mind, body, and soul….this includes gut (microbiome) health as well because the majority of our immune system resides in our gut and there is a gut-brain association (as the gut goes, so goes the brain). Food made by God, not “food” created by man, is what heals us. Most of the time… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

As The Atlantic observed in its recent article…comment image

MomOfIV
MomOfIV
5 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

this is the result when entitlement mindset becomes “offended”…how do these kids learn to cope when they believe everything should go their way? unfortunately, they have been indoctrinated with the perfect mindset for living in this PC world.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago
Reply to  MomOfIV

They should hear this instead:comment image

MomOfIV
MomOfIV
5 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Amen!

M. Wilk
M. Wilk
5 years ago

Is this a surprise to anyone? God has been removed from their life, parents have become less and less important due to the programming from schools, education has become communist indoctrination, death is glamorized and seen as healthy, such as, assisted suicide, abortion, animals are treated as more important than human life, drugs, sexual perversion is seen as normal. All of this is destroying the heart, mind and soul of our children and youth. With this death and non-worth consciousness, how can they have healthy thoughts and feelings about themselves and life? They’re victims of the corrupt, evil elites but… Read more »

Auntie Lulu
Auntie Lulu
5 years ago

I would agree . . . . . taking God out of everyday life, the breakdown of the traditional family, and the left leaning ideas of today’s schools have set up today’s youth to fail in general. We see the dismal results.

DCG
Admin
DCG
5 years ago
Reply to  Auntie Lulu

I read a comment from someone, who claimed to be a libertarian who wasn’t religious, that even he could see the significance/role of taking God out of schools yet having Bibles into prisons.

marblenecltr
5 years ago

All of above, so true! We are attacked every way, and, with our rejection of our God and Judeo-Christian values, we have no solid footing, no foundation for worthy living. CalGary expressed it well in an earlier posting referencing our entertainment media.
Ambrose Bierce once defined armor as a suit of clothing worn by a man whose tailor is a blacksmith. We need more than ever for our armor to be from God, Ephesians 6: 11.

marblenecltr
5 years ago

Correction for third sentence, ninth word. “Referencing” is almost the worst of possible word choices. “Shouted with fervent passion” is closer to the truth.