While 60% of college students were diagnosed with a mental health condition, only 28% knew where to get treatment. Brett Donnelly, MD, Mindpath Health’s vice president of collegiate development, discusses how colleges are working to meet students’ needs with such high demand in this Fortune article.
The following article contains experiences of emotional turmoil and suicide.
Isolated, homesick, and dealing with a bad relationship, Jose struggled to find his footing at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus of more than 50,000 students during his freshman year in 2018.
At the start of the spring semester of his sophomore year, he made an appointment with an on-campus counselor—mostly because the university offered a couple free sessions to students. But while he says the counselor was a good listener, he wasn’t inclined to continue. “I couldn’t really develop a connection,” Jose recalls.
Jose’s experience is far from uncommon—American college students are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. Sixty percent of college students reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition by a professional, the most common afflictions being anxiety and depression, according to an exclusive Fortune survey of 1,000 college students conducted by The Harris Poll in June.
That’s significantly higher than the general population, only about 48% of whom say they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Women in college are far more likely to report a diagnosis than men: 67% compared with 51%. And part-time students tend to struggle more than their full-time classmates, the survey found.
The pandemic only exacerbated the many mental health problems college students face
Nearly half of college students surveyed by Fortune reported their overall mental health has worsened since the pandemic. About 56% say they have experienced worsening stress, while 53% reported heightened anxiety, and 45% cited increased depression symptoms.
The increased diversity of the student body also means that not only are there more students who may need support, but perhaps as well a wider range of symptoms and conditions for counselors to address than in the past, says Doug Hankes, licensed psychologist and executive director of student counseling and psychological services at Alabama’s Auburn University.
Many in Black and Hispanic households lost family members or faced severe financial setbacks, while at the same time working on the front lines as essential workers. For LGBTQIA+ youth, some were sent back home to potentially unsafe environments, Dole says.
The trouble with accessing mental health support at school
Three in 10 college students who received counseling have used their university services, but it’s more common to seek out a private therapist or counselor, according to Fortune’s survey. In many cases, that’s because it’s not a quick or easy process to get support on campus.
Many students don’t really know where to start. Twenty-eight percent of students strongly agree that they know where to go on campus to receive mental health treatment.
‘Not resourced to do that’
“Universities are working extremely hard—and have been working extremely hard over the past decade—to try to figure out ways to meet the students’ needs,” says Brett Donnelly, vice president of college health business development at Mindpath Health, which helps provide in-person and virtual therapy and psychiatry for college students at seven locations in California and one in Minneapolis. “They are experiencing the same crunch as anybody who’s in mental health right now, which is just that there is far more demand for services than there are clinicians.”
While most students with mental health problems are dealing with depression or anxiety, college wellness centers also see young people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The latest research suggests many people experience their first episodes in their late teens to mid-twenties. And if they’re away at college, that can mean they’re on their own trying to handle the situation.
Mental health problems don’t stop at the college gates
Suicides still account for 16% of overall deaths of those ages 18 to 25, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. They’re the second leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 45.
In some cases, that blow to their emotional well-being, as well as their grades, can lead to students dropping out. About 14% of college students say mental health issues were the primary reason they left college, according to Sallie Mae’s How America Completes College 2022 report. More broadly, mental health challenges were cited as a contributing factor to why nearly a third of students didn’t finish their degrees.
More than two in five members of Gen Z (ages 15 to 25) battle depression, compared with just 23% of those over the age of 25, according to a national survey from the Walton Family Foundation and Murmuration released last month. About 18% of Zoomers surveyed reported their mental health challenges were so severe, they’ve considered self-harm or suicide.
Read the full Fortune article with sources.