3 Things Every Student Should Know About Campus Mental Health Services

Many students with mental health concerns are unaware of the resources their college offers. Campus mental health services can provide the support you need.
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  • Many college students exhibit symptoms of mental health conditions.
  • Campus mental health services have ramped up awareness and funding efforts.
  • Studies show that campus counseling can improve students' mental health and ensure academic success.
  • Social media encourages students to seek virtual help.

The college years pose daunting challenges to mental health — for traditional-aged college students, these challenges may include leaving family and friends, shouldering adult responsibilities, and navigating new relationships and the ready availability of alcohol and drugs. Many students also face academic pressure and, increasingly, financial worries.

Combined, these stressors can intensify a period of life that's already tough on mental health.

Most mental health conditions have their peak onset in early adulthood, which "corresponds with the age range of most college students," says Rhonda Lesley, director of the counseling center at Missouri State University.

While college may exacerbate mental health conditions, college resources can offer relief. Between counseling, group support, workshops, medication, telehealth options, and emergency hotlines, colleges provide robust mental health services to students.

Here are three things every college student should know about mental health services on college campuses.

1. Campus Mental Health Centers Are Ready to Help More Than Ever

College students' mental health continues its decades' long decline, and the stress and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified an existing trend.

According to the latest Healthy Minds Institute survey, 41% of college students reported moderate or major depression in the past year. Thirteen percent also reported suicidal ideation.

A swelling share of college students have sought mental health treatment at campus counseling centers beginning in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, researchers considered mental health issues to be common among college students, with demand for counseling services growing at least five times faster than average student enrollment.

But not all students know they can seek help on campus.

"Despite the efforts to promote mental health service availability to students, many college students report they are unaware mental health services exist on campus," says Lesley.

While Lesley and other mental health leaders worry that students remain unaware of mental health services, surveys show more students than ever are aware that mental health support is available to them.

When the winter 2021 Healthy Minds study asked college students whether they would know where to go to get mental health help from their school, a majority agreed they knew.

Funding around mental health services is also growing. More colleges are beefing up their offerings to combat mental health disorders.

2. Campus Counseling Helps Students — If They Use It

Counseling helps many students stay in school, succeed academically, and develop a sense of personal well-being.

A survey of campus counseling centers found that 65% of clients attributed counseling with keeping them enrolled. A similar share (64%) indicated that counseling helped their academic performance.

Meanwhile, the negative effects of not seeking help can have a long-term impact. Mental health conditions, from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and substance misuse, are often associated with lower GPAs and higher dropout rates.

While visiting the campus clinic may not solve all of a student's problems, avoiding help can lead to bigger ones, often with mental health fallout of their own.

Interestingly, while students' need for mental health support has grown in recent years, the trend against seeking help appears to be holding steady.

A study of campus mental health resource use conducted early in the pandemic found that the majority of students with moderate or severe mental health symptoms never used mental health services on campus. Lesley calls stigma "one of the greatest barriers" to students getting help for mental health conditions.

College students may also worry that counseling won't have any effect or that they can't afford it. But this, Lesley says, just isn't true.

"Counseling only takes a few sessions for students to begin to benefit from the experience," explains Lesley. And with free or low-cost campus services, counseling remains "an efficient and affordable way to begin feeling and functioning better soon," according to Lesley.

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3. Social Media May Encourage Students to Turn to Campus Counseling

Social media use among young people was prevalent before the pandemic, and the isolation of the pandemic may have further increased college students' social media use, with more than 3 in 4 18-to-29-year-olds using Instagram and Snapchat many times a day in 2021.

Social isolation itself is known to worsen mental health conditions. Add to that the mental and physical problems associated with too much screen time, and a preexisting mental health crisis is primed to reach a new inflection point.

Social media companies are well aware of the dangers their products pose to young users. But Instagram and TikTok, like many other platforms, stake their success on bringing in younger and younger users.

There's a silver lining to all this screen time, however: Sharing stories and inspiration can help young people, including college students, identify their own mental health concerns, overcome stigma, and find support — even if that support takes place virtually.

Some colleges are even experimenting with using social media to track students' mental health and to provide another medium for delivering help.

What's more, students who prefer or feel more comfortable communicating through phones and laptops can access campus mental health services virtually.

"Many college counseling centers provide counseling via secure sites, such as Zoom or other teleplatforms," says Lesley. "This makes seeking support even more convenient, as students can receive counseling from the convenience of their room."

Another potential benefit of social media normalizing mental health conversations is that students are becoming more aware that they can and should seek help, even if they don't have an extreme mental health concern.

"[Many believe] that you have to have a mental illness to receive counseling," says Lesley, when in fact "many people receive counseling and have no formal mental health diagnosis."

With Advice From:

Portrait of Rhonda Lesley

Rhonda Lesley

Rhonda Lesley is director of the Counseling Center at Missouri State University. She has over 25 years of practice as a licensed professional counselor in Missouri, focusing her career mainly in higher education and private practice. She has also worked in community mental health settings.

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