Demand for mental health services is higher than ever

'You're seeing campus counseling centers redefine what therapy is'

The number of students seeking mental health services is growing five times faster than enrollment, Kelly Field reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Experts propose a few potential reasons for such an explosion of demand:

  • More students arriving on campus with pre-existing mental conditions;
  • More faculty referring students to mental health centers; and
  • An overall decreased stigma about seeking help.

College leaders fear that failing to provide adequate care in a timely manner to students could result in lower graduation rates and higher risk of liability. As a result, institutions have taken several approaches—some traditional and some not-so-traditional—to meeting demand.

Expanding services

Schools that have the resources to do so are adding more staff to their mental health centers. More staff decreases wait times and evens out disproportionate staff-to-student ratios.

But even when schools have the financial resources to hire more staff, they face several roadblocks, such as finding professionals willing to relocate near the school's campus.

Some institutions have instead enlisted the services of:

  • Psychology and counseling-education professors;
  • Temporary contract-based therapists;
  • Primary-care providers;
  • Trainees;
  • Postdocs; and
  • Interns.

Consider combining your health and counseling services

Establishing triage systems

Schools are increasingly finding ways to sort students' conditions into those that require immediate action and those that are less urgent.

Memorial University of Newfoundland assigns students seeking mental health services into a stepped care system that includes nine tiers. Each tier of student receives a different level of care, ranging from online self-help to intensive intervention.

Encouraging group therapy

Dan Jones, the director of East Tennessee State University's counseling center, says group therapy, which is both cost-efficient and time-efficient, is proven to be equally effective to individual therapy.

Because coordinating schedules for every student in a group can be difficult, some schools are offering short-term group therapy, such as the University of California, Santa Cruz's three session seminar, Embrace Your Life.

Best practices for responding to students of concern

Teaching resilience

Some schools have taken a preventative approach to mental health services, coaching students to cope with failure and stress so that they don't reach a point where they need to seek help.

Paul Furtaw, the associate director of counseling services at Drexel University, says the school has established a coaching system with its physician-assistant students, which teaches them how to deal with stressors using sports psychology.

"You're seeing campus counseling centers redefine what therapy is," says Furtaw.

Referring students

Institutions that simply do not have the resources to accommodate—or provide alternatives for—their growing demand have begun to refer students to outside providers.

To reduce barriers to this type of off-campus care, schools are:

  • Offering discounts to clinicians;
  • Persuading clinicians to do pro bono work;
  • Working out deals with teaching hospitals; and
  • Offering students financial assistance for their co-pays and out-of-network fees.

(Gamon, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/6).

How other schools minimize wait times for students seeking counseling


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