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Increased use of mental health services in American college students

A recent study examined the rates of using mental health services among U.S. college students, as well as possible explanatory factors.

While college mental health services are available for students, it has become an increasing concern that these may not be able to cover everyone. It has been estimated that one in three students meets the criteria for a mental health disorder. The resources available for educational institutions may not be able to cover a rise in its use.

A group of researchers in the United States analyzed data from a large national study called the Healthy Mind Study, examining the mental health of students nationwide. As published in Psychiatric Services in Advance, the study examined over 155,000 students from 196 campuses in the United States, with samples no more than 4,000 students per school.

Rise in mental health services, diagnosis, and treatment

The researchers found that, indeed, there is a remarkable rise in mental health rates amongst students, as well as a rise in the utilization of mental health services in schools. Of the entire sample screened by the study, 26.9% were reported to have a positive diagnosis of depression, while 8.2% expressed suicidal ideations. Both suicidal ideation and the overall rates of depression have steadily increased over the past decade.

Furthermore, the use of mental health services among college students has increased over the same period. Rates of treatment have increased from 18.7% to almost double that, 33.8%, in 2017. This was true for both counselling/therapy as well as medication use.

The proportions of psychopathology diagnosed have increased from 21.9% in 2007 to 35.5% in 2017. Rates of diagnosis and treatment of depression have likewise increased in the past decade.

Moreover, it has been shown that the utilization of mental health services in the school has increased from 6.6% to 11.8%. This doubling in the demands for mental health treatment in schools has been reported to impose a large strain on the resources available to these schools.

Reduced rates of mental health stigma

Another finding that has been revealed by this study is that rates of stigma have been reduced among college students. Personal stigma has reduced from 11.4% to 5.7%, while perceived stigma reduced from 64.2% to 46.0%.

This reduction in levels of stigma has been hypothesized to be one of the main causes of the increase in utilization of mental health services. Previous research has determined that levels of personal stigma are associated with treatment seeking.

These results imply that the limited-resources in mental health centers in colleges may become increasingly problematic, as waitlist rates are increased and fewer students are able to receive the proper treatment they require.

This study presents strong findings that can be backed with the very large sample used for determining these rates. Nonetheless, it has been impossible to determine the quality of mental health services received by students. Therefore, much more research is needed to determine the specifics of these findings, and whether there are is something to be done.

Written by Maor Bernshtein

Reference: Lipson, Sarah Ketchen, et al. “Increased Rates of Mental Health Service Utilization by U.S. College Students: 10-Year Population-Level Trends (2007–2017).” Psychiatric Services in Advance, May 2018, doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201800332.

Maor Bernshtein
Maor Bernshtein
Maor is currently working on his BSc in psychology from York University in Toronto, Canada. He is interested in psychological research and likes to analyze results and apply them to everyday life. Maor has previously volunteered for The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is passionate about bringing psychological knowledge back to the people. He hopes that others can benefit from psychological insights through his work and improve their overall life and well-being.
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