Lifetime prevalence rates of “threat-to-self” characteristics, such as self-injury or suicidal ideation, consistently increased over the last 6 years among college students receiving mental health services.
“The results we are seeing are the outcomes we would expect to see from suicide prevention efforts over the last decade,” Ben Locke, PhD, of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, said in a press release. “We’ve been asked if students are sicker today, and this doesn't seem to be supported by the data. Over the last 6 years, the rate at which students report prior mental health treatment has not increased, but with communities being primed to say ‘that’s a problem, let’s find you help,’ more students are being referred.”
To characterize trends among college students receiving mental health services, researchers analyzed data for the 2015 to 2016 academic year from 139 college and university counseling centers for 150,483 college students, representing 3,419 clinicians and more than 1,034,510 appointments. Data were gathered during routine clinical practice at counseling centers.
Students had an average 4.66 counseling appointments.
Lifetime prevalence rates for “threat-to-self” characteristics, such as non-suicidal self-injury and serious suicidal ideation, increased for the sixth consecutive year.
Lifetime prevalence rates for prior mental health treatment remained stable for the sixth consecutive year. Approximately 50% of students who sought treatment at college had prior counseling; one in three received prior medication; and one in 10 had been hospitalized.
A supplemental survey of counseling centers indicated 28% provided more “rapid-access” service hours per client and 7.6% fewer “routine” service hours per client over the past 6 years.
“Counseling centers always make sure to provide emergency services in a short time period — that's our priority,” Locke said in the release. “If you have strep throat, and go into a health center, they won’t tell you to come back in 2 weeks because they’re fully booked and they won’t give you a half prescription; you’ll get a full prescription for the medication you need.”
Anxiety and depression continued to be the most common presenting concerns, according to researchers.
Students reported increasing levels of distress for depression, generalized anxiety and social anxiety each year in the last 6 years. Meanwhile, other self-reported distress, such as academic, eating concerns, hostility and substance use, remained constant or decreased.
One-third of counseling terminations were due to client drop-outs, according to clinicians.
Institutional policies, such as session limits or fees, had an important role in how treatment ended.
Sixty-four percent of clients did not receive psychiatric medications during treatment.
Rates of distress related to substance use and binge-drinking decreased over time, while marijuana use slightly increased. – by Amanda Oldt
Disclosure: Please see the study for a full list of relevant financial disclosures.
Locke B, et al. 2016 annual report. Center for Collegiate Mental Health. Available at: http://ccmh.psu.edu/publications. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017.