Providing mental health services is just smart economics

'You can't expect to meet all the demand'

The demand for mental health services continues to overwhelm colleges and universities. 

Mental health reform began shortly after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, but as more resources are created, more students express their need.

More than half of college students felt "overwhelming anxiety" in the previous year, according to a 2014 American College Health Association study. Nearly all mental health directors surveyed by the National College Counseling Association in 2013 said they'd seen an increase in serious psychological issues at their institutions. The number of appointments at college counseling centers has grown more than seven times the rate of institutional enrollment, according to a Pennsylvania State University report.

Anxiety and depression rates are rising in American high schoolers. Those problems don't vanish when those students arrive on college campuses.

Yet just 12% of community colleges have a licensed mental health provider on staff, according to a University of Wisconsin HOPE lab study. Four-year institutions staff more, but are still overwhelmed. Many schools now have long wait-lists for psychological services. And universities in other countries are struggling to meet demand as well. 

How colleges are expanding access to mental health services

The demand is so great it's prompting legislative changes. In California, a bill was proposed that would create funding streams for mental health services at all of the state colleges. In addition, the University of California system pledged millions of dollars to bolster its mental health resources.

Experts and college leaders have also discussed crowdsourcing mental health resources through technology such as mobile apps.

"You can't expect to meet all the demand," says Unab Khan, medical director of Brown University's health services. "As we go on increasing services, we hope more students will come to them, which means we'll have to increase services."

However, even as the stigma around mental health drops, reports of schools forcing out students who seek help may have suppressed others from coming forward.

"Schools need to be extremely careful about the message they send. It's a sign of strength when a student comes forward because it means they're interested in getting better," says Darcy Gruttadaro, advocacy director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness

How to structure and deliver mental health services

It just makes economic sense to provide mental health services, says Daniel Eisenberg, a University of Michigan professor of health management and policy.

"It makes sense to provide mental health services at least on some basic level through campuses, because campuses are integrated communities that have so many ways of identifying people who might benefit from these services [and other places are not]. It's a more efficient, high-value way of delivering the service," he says (Wang, Quartz, 6/8).

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