The National Association for Mental Illness conducted a survey to assess the prevalence of college mental health and the efforts made by schools to accommodate students. The survey results show that the schools the survey’s participants enrolled at either lacked sufficient mental health services or did not publicize existing services well. Ultimately, college campuses are struggling to help students identify and treat mental illness.
Students attending college who do not receive the right treatment risk not being able to finish their education. Of the 765 survey responders, 10 percent said they were no longer in school (this does not include graduates). Out of this group of students, 64 percent said they were no longer enrolled due to mental health issues, 50 percent said they did not access mental health services, and 45 percent said they did not receive any accommodations.
“A depressive episode made it impossible for me to go to classes,” one anonymous responder said. “And I did not get help until it was too late and I was withdrawn and I could never afford the cost to go back because I lost my scholarship for being withdrawn.”
The number of college students not receiving treatment is particularly concerning because the majority of college students fall into age category that puts them at risk. A large chunk of the responders in the NAMI survey fall between the ages of 18-25. A survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that fall into the 18-25 age range are much more likely to seriously consider suicide than those in the 26-49 age group. Approximately 6.7 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have seriously considered suicide–a mark three times higher than those over the age of 50.
If the numbers aren’t enough to open eyes to the importance of improving mental health services on college campuses, personal anecdotes make the case even clearer. In February, The Crimson–Harvard’s student paper–published an anonymous op-ed piece in which a student detailed her struggles with schizophrenia and the lack of support from the school. The article explains how the student struggled to find a means to pay for expensive antipsychotics.
“Even on full financial aid, I work two jobs to pay for my education, and there is no money to spare,” the piece reads. “I wrote to my financial aid officer, and he still has not responded.”
More concerning than the lack of resources for students, is the description of the “help” the student received when she reached out to Harvard University Health Services. “She (a social worker at Harvard) encouraged me to drink chamomile tea and to practice breathing exercises to cope with stress.”
NAMI has several recommendations for Colleges looking to help students who are suffering from mental illness — providing accommodations such as tutoring, books on tape, or online classes and providing peer-run support groups and routing students to mental health services early.