Student mental health on college campuses becoming a significant policy issue

The Utah Student Association has identified student mental health as its top priority for the past two years. More recently, student leaders at Utah State University voted to declare a mental health crisis at the university.  According to a survey compiled by student leaders across the state, a college student in Utah, on average, has to wait four to eight weeks to get an appointment at a campus counseling center. Student leaders also produced a video to help raise awareness across Utah campuses.

Student affairs leaders at USHE campuses have been prioritizing their limited resources to better help students in recent years. They’ve also worked to raise awareness of the services available to students who may be in crisis, and are providing basic training to students and faculty to help in recognizing early signs of mental illness. Campus services have also been developing partnerships with off-campus providers and experts to augment on-campus services.

In 2014, the American College Health Association found more than 50% of U.S. college students had felt “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous 12 months. In 2013, almost all the college mental health directors surveyed by the National College Counseling Association said they’d seen a recent increase in students with serious psychological problems at their schools. Pennsylvania State University’s latest national report (pdf) on collegiate mental health at almost 100 U.S. colleges and universities reveals that the number of appointments made at counseling centers has grown more than seven times the rate of institutional enrollment.

Addressing mental health issues on college campuses requires significant resources, Another survey released by the University of Wisconsin in March 2016 found only 12% of U.S. community colleges have a psychiatrist or other licensed provider on hand to help students in need of mental-health services.

A panel discussion at this week’s Joint Education Commission sponsored by the Utah Legislature highlighted the issue of mental health in education – both in K-12 and higher education. All eight USHE institutions recognize mental health as one of the top student issues. Higher education and student leaders plan to work with legislators in the 2017 Legislative Session to expand the service of the state’s K-12 student tip line application to college students.

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Trisha Dugovic
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