Is there a mental health crisis on campus?

There’s “exponential growth” in demand, so why are diagnoses down?

by Josh Dehaas

Mental Health by Joe Houghton on FlickrThere are so many students seeking mental health services on North American campuses that a counselor at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) is describing it as a “mental health crisis.”

But are illnesses like depression and anxiety more common than they used to be, or is something else causing the surge in demand?

Gail Hutchinson, director of psychological services at UWO, told The Western News this week that there has been “exponential growth in the demand” for services on her campus. She says there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of students asking to see a counselor in the past two years. Even after hiring another counselor, there is a waiting list of more than 100 students.

And Western isn’t alone in reporting explosive growth in demand for services. A new study from Pennsylvania State University found that one in four U.S. college students had tried to access mental health services on campus. You read that correctly — one in four.

But if demand for services is increasingly so quickly, why aren’t self-reported rates of mental health diagnoses going up? The National College Health Assessment, which has surveyed tens of thousands of North American students twice annually since 2000, shows that students aren’t any more depressed or suicidal than they used to be, although anxiety is up somewhat. Consider this:

In 2000, 10.1 per cent of students said they were diagnosed with depression in the past year.
In 2010,  8.3 per cent of students said they were diagnosed with depression in the past year.

In 2000, 4.3 per cent of students reported having been diagnosed with anxiety in past year.
In 2010, 10.3 per cent of students reported having been diagnosed with an anxiety in past year.

In 2000, 11 per cent of students said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the past year.
In 2010, 6 per cent of students said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the past year.

One explanation is that campus mental health centres are simply doing a better job advertising. It’s simple logic that if students are more aware of mental illness, they’re more likely to seek professional help.

And they are much more aware of mental health. In the 2005 NCHA survey, 11.7 per cent of students reported receiving information from their college or university on suicide prevention. Just five years later, 34.5 — or three times as many — said they had received such information. In 2010, 50 per cent of students said they had received information on depression from their school. In 2000, the NCHA didn’t even ask the question.

So even though the demand for mental health services is going up, the crisis might not be in mental health.

Photo courtesy of Joe Houghton on Flickr.




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Is there a mental health crisis on campus?

  1. If you asked campus psychiatrist, Miriam Grossman, M.D., if she was surprised at the increase in students seeking mental health services on Canadian campuses she would say not at all. In 2006, Grossman authored the book: UNPROTECTED. In it she reveals the growing problems students experience as they attempt to live out today’s radical social changes in sexual behaviour. Many are left confused, mentally stifled and are finding it difficult to reach their full academic potential.

    New science on casual sex has also been explored by other M.D.s who have noticed the drastic results one’s sex life has on our three-pound brain. Read, “HOOKED” by Joe S. Mcilhaney, M.D. and Freda Mckissic Bush, M.D. to discover some interesting facts on why perhaps so many students are crying out for help.

  2. I’d be curious to see what % of faculty and staff are also seeking help.

  3. That more students are seeking counselling doesn’t imply anything about the incidence of psychiatric diagnoses. Everyone feels depressed or anxious at one time or another, but neither implies an actual diagnosable mood disorder.

  4. In 2010, the 5% difference stopped considering suicide.

  5. To the previous commenter and anybody else who unfortunately stumbles upon the links above to the two books UNPROTECTED and HOOKED. Do not pursue. The two mentioned books have not received any mainstream medical attention and for good reason. After doing some research it turns out that the books are written by right wing conservative American physicians employed by right wing lobby groups/think tanks.

    This is essentially some conservative Americans saying “free sex is bad”. It is just wrong to claim science and medicine when one has an ideological hidden agenda especially since the first book was published anonymously. This is Canada we are more progressive than that. That is why we do not have TV shows like “16 and Pregnant”, the “Secret Life of the American Teenager”, etc.

    While, we may be neighbors with America, we do not need to share the aggressive and ultraconservative views of the few. These issues of depression have nothing to do with sexual mores. It is much larger than that.

    Class room pressure to succeed and compete, foreign environments away from home, single room housing all by yourself, completely new world, etc. are much more realistic causes, not casual sex or friendships. And that is coming from a university student who sees these issues daily with friends and acquaintances.

    - Open Minded Canadian

  6. Counsellor has two L’s not one.

  7. The mainstream medical and public health communities were silent as HPV and Chlamydia in young women grew to epidemic proportions. Thankfully, the pharmaceuticals devised a way to curb the problem and turn a handy profit with Gardasil, so it was advertised and we lined up for our shot.

    The average college campus is the public health equivalent of extreme obesity and smoking all rolled into one. Kids first time away from home, clueless, over-sexed due to natural hormones and sex-soaked-media, get thrown together and go at it, often under the bizarre moniker of “partying”. They use each other like Handi-Wipes and then are left emotionally bereft and sometimes with an STD.

    Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution as social mammals is not going to get erased by a generation of social engineering, so yes, the females are wired differently and often get stuck with more hurt and more disease.

    Since the pendulum has swung this far already, in the US, it usually takes a wacky movement on the other side to begin to change the direction of the momentum. Young women, apparently, had no organized voice. But the Christian right does. Even if they are behind this book, what it is saying is valid. Just don’t let them start legislating. Or taking abortion away. Being 19 and having an abortion is bad. Having a baby is way worse. Having sex all the time with whoever is plain stupid and wrong, and nobody bothered to tell these kids that.

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