Universities Unprepared for Soaring Anxiety, Depression Rates Among Students

By Paul Fuhr 03/21/18

Even as schools play with innovative approaches, many students keep “slipping through the cracks” due to low resources and stigma. 

Worried student sitting in a classroom

College students are seeking treatment for anxiety and depression in record numbers, according to Time, though most schools aren’t prepared for it. In fact, the statistics are as eye-opening as they are disturbing.

“Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by about 30% on average, while enrollment grew by less than 6%,” Time reported, with almost 40% of all the college students surveyed claiming that “they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function.”

Sixty-one percent of students also experienced “overwhelming anxiety,” while many other students reported suicide attempts or self-harm. (The survey sampled 63,000 college students.) 

Time noted that as students’ workloads ratcheted up due to midterms, so did wait times to receive treatment at counseling centers. Many students who are “still struggling to adjust to college consider not returning after the spring or summer breaks,” Time observed. In order to prevent dropouts, however, many colleges have begun to experiment with new treatment methods and approaches.

UCLA, for one, offered all of its incoming students free online depression screenings, with more than 2,700 students opting in. (UCLA counselors have “followed up with more than 250 [students] who were identified as being at risk for severe depression, exhibiting manic behavior or having suicidal thoughts.”)

Likewise, Virginia Tech opened “satellite counseling clinics” across its campus while Ohio State University hired 12 brand-new mental health professionals and launched a mobile counseling app.  

Still, most universities (especially ones in rural areas) simply don’t have the resources to combat rising depression and anxiety among its student populations.

An average university, Time notes, has only one professional counselor for every 1,737 students, which falls below the International Association of Counseling Services’ minimum recommendation of one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.

Time suggests many college counselors have “battle fatigue” and are simply overwhelmed by the number of students seeking professional help.

Sadly, even as schools like UCLA and OSU play with innovative approaches, many students keep “slipping through the cracks” due to low resources and mental health stigma. Some students put off seeing a counselor because “they question whether their situation is serious enough to warrant it.” 

Unfortunately, the reality is that most students are simply on their own. But where schools have been caught unaware by the problem, many third-party programs have emerged to fill an ever-increasing need.

“Off-campus clinics are developing innovative, if expensive, treatment programs that offer a personalized support system and teach students to prioritize mental wellbeing in high-pressure academic settings,” Time reported, adding that many of the programs specialize in developing life skills and preparing students for the real world.

For the students lucky enough to find on-campus treatment, though, there is hope: “It’s not weird to hear someone say, ‘I’m going to a counseling appointment,’ anymore,” one student told Time, suggesting that attitudes toward mental health may be shifting in the right direction. 

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.