More and more, college students seek mental health counseling formajor problems

May 17, 2006

More than 90% of directors of college counseling centers in theUnited States and Canada report an increase in the number ofstudents seeking psychiatric or psychological help for severeproblems on campus, according to an annual survey of counselingcenter directors that contains data from 366 campus counselingcenters. The survey findings offered a great deal of insight intohow, and why, students use the services of counseling centers.

More than 90% of directors of college counseling centers in the United States and Canada report an increase in the number of students seeking psychiatric or psychological help for severe problems on campus, according to an annual survey of counseling center directors that contains data from 366 campus counseling centers. The survey findings offered a great deal of insight into how, and why, students use the services of counseling centers.

Among survey findings:

  • 9% of students sought counseling in 2005
  • 90.3% of directors reported an increase in the number of students coming to counseling centers with a severe psychological problem, compared to 85% in 2004
  • 42.8% of clients, directors report, have a severe psychological problem, including 8.5% who are so seriously impaired that they cannot remain in school. More than 34% suffer a severe problem that can be treated successfully enough to allow them to stay at school.
  • 95% of directors believe that the number of students coming to campus who are already taking psychiatric medication has increased.
  • 2,462 students were hospitalized in 2005 for a psychological problem—up from 2,210 in 2004.
  • The percentage of directors who reported concerns about student self-inflicted injuries, eating disorders, and sexual assault was higher in 2005 than in 2004.

Why the increase in students experiencing severe psychological stress? Answers to that question are varied—and speculative. But counseling directors suggest that a major reason is, in part, a success story. Many students who would not have been able to attend college in the past because of their psychiatric problems now can do so because of the availability of new neuropsychopharmaceuticals.

Other reasons cited for the rise include increased family dysfunction and early exposure to drugs, alcohol, and sex.

On the positive side, the survey revealed that more resources are being allocated by colleges to address these issues, and more schools are offering psychiatric services on campus—58.5%, up 4.5% from 2004. In addition, 54.6% of clients said that counseling services helped them stay in school and 60% said it improved their academic performance.

More than 80% of directors in this survey believe that top administrators on their campus are increasingly aware of the growing need for counseling services and the greater complexity of the problems being treated.

The survey was conducted, for the 25th time, by University of Pittsburgh retired vice chancellor for student affairs, Robert Gallagher. Find it at www.iacsinc.org, the Web site of the survey's publisher, the International Association of Counseling Services. The survey was funded by the University of Pittsburgh, the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors, and the American College Counseling Association.