Mental health on college campuses remains a crucial puzzle piece in the overall wellness of young adults. However, suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 years old. While almost half of all U.S. adults will develop a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Nearly one in five college-aged individuals currently have or will develop a mental illness within the next year.
In January 2014, an undergraduate student at Yale posted a suicide note on Facebook before taking her own life. The note described her struggle with depression and her fear that she would be forced to leave the prestigious school because of her condition.
College can be a particularly challenging time in life. The stress of being away from home for the first time, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, excessive drinking, chronic stress, and financial strain are all factors that increase risk of developing a mental disorder. Most college campuses have onsite counseling centers for students; however, some of these centers are often unequipped and understaffed to handle the number of students needing services. This can result in only treating students already in a severe mental health crisis. Non-emergency cases often become second priority. While treating the greatest need makes sense, there is a problem with this model. Rather than implementing early intervention practices, these campuses could be letting mental conditions go untreated until they become an emergency.
Marney A. White, an associate professor of psychiatry and chronic disease epidemiology at Yale University, described a successful campus-based intervention program for eating disorders. The program identified college women with significant weight concerns and provided an online treatment for body image dissatisfaction and unhealthy dieting. She believes that requiring mandatory mental health screenings on campuses could also prove effective in early identification and treatment of mental health conditions. This would allow campus centers to intervene before a student is in crisis.
“This program was found to be effective in reducing the incidence of eating disorders one year later. Similar programs could be implemented for depression and anxiety,” she said.
Many campuses require students to attend programs on sexual assault and alcohol awareness, why not have a workshop on mental health awareness? Ignoring mental health by sweeping it under the rug furthers the stigma and makes it even more difficult to reach out for help.
“Few people question the ethics of medical screenings, since most understand that early intervention prevents the onset of a more serious condition,” said White. “The same is true of mental disorders, but ignoring sub-threshold symptoms leaves students vulnerable, setting the stage for the development of a serious and potentially chronic problem. A problem that at its most extreme, might lead a student to withdraw from school. Or worse.”
Jill Hamilton, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been the Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, Nebraska State Conference Planning Committee; she is a volunteer mentor with Y.E.S., and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.