More College Students Seeking Mental Health Help, Says Study

More College Students Seeking Mental Health Help, Says Study

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa

      More college students are seeking help for mental illness than in previous years, according to the 2005 National Survey of Counseling Directors.

      About 90 percent of the 366 counseling center directors surveyed reported an increase in clients with severe psychological problems, according to the survey, conducted by Dr. Robert Gallagher, an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2004, 85.8 reported an increase. The survey has been published annually since 1981 by the International Association of Counseling Services, a professional accrediting organization based in Alexandria, Va.

      Ninety-six percent of the directors said psychological disorders are a growing concern on campuses. Campus counselors are seeing more major depression, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorders, but the counselors say it’s not necessarily that more students are ill. It’s that more students seek help because mental illness carries less of a stigma and better medications make it possible for students with severe psychological problems to attend college.

      “We have students who come to us already on medications, who were treated as a teenager,” says Dr. Paul Natvig, a psychiatrist at the University of Iowa Student Health Service. “I see patients who do have serious illnesses like schizophrenia. Because of the treatment, they’re able to stay in school and be very successful.”

      Still, a growing percentage of directors — 69 percent, up from 55 percent in 2004 — expressed concern about an increase in self-injuries among students. One in three directors said there is a need to find better referral sources for students needing long-term care. In 2004, just 54 percent of directors expressed that concern.

      Directors reported 154 student suicides over the last year. Some 2,462 students were hospitalized for psychological reasons, up from 2,210 in 2004. The percentage of schools offering psychiatric services on campus rose by 4.5 percent, to 58.5 percent. And the percentage of school centers charging for personal counseling fell from a high of 17.2 percent to 10.9 percent.

      At peak times, toward the end of semesters, the University of Northern Iowa’s counseling center is at or slightly above capacity, says Dr. Dave Towle, a psychologist and director of the center. His office sees 500 students a year, about 10 percent of the student population.

      To help more students, Natvig sees some clients every three weeks instead of every two, a measure to help alleviate the wait for some students seeking counseling. The waiting list for psychiatric appointments at the University of Iowa has doubled, now sitting at four to six weeks, says Natvig. He noted that students who can’t safely wait are squeezed in sooner. The longer wait reflects a national increase of college students with severe psychological problems.

      The University of Iowa Counseling Service conducted about 2,100 consultations with students in the last fiscal year, compared with about 1,900 two years earlier.

      “We’ve been operating at capacity for quite a while now,’’ says Dr. Mark Harris, director of clinical services at the counseling service.

      The study can be found at www.iacsinc.org.

Associated Press and staff reports



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