Not only can't we "counsel our way out" of the types of mental health stresses college students face, we can't keep up with the demand for better mental health care training for faculty, nor are there enough dollars to hire as many on campus counselors as necessary.
The solution is to focus less on counseling students and more on skill building and resilience, according to Michael Huey, MD, Emory University's assistant vice president and executive director of student health services, and president of the American College Health Association (ACHA).
During an ACHA mental health symposium held earlier this week on the George Washington University campus, Dr. Huey and others on a panel of college and university presidents, provosts, shared that today's generation of students are accustomed to having mental health services available to them, are less worried about stigma than generations past, yet also seem to feel less of a sense of agency about resolving their various mental and emotional struggles.
"Students in the 1960s didn't trust authority, as a general rule, but today's students tend to trust authorities a little too much, rather than look to themselves for how to get things done," I heard one panelist say.
Of the take-aways I thought most important from this enlightening event, one was that rather than see the current situation as a series of crises -- whether it be of a lack of resources or of an epidemic of students afflicted with mental health concerns -- we should see it as normative because if young adults are seeking more support, then it means they have been paying attention to having been told in a variety of ways, including through public health campaigns, not to suffer alone.
All this is in the context of data that, to me at least, were surprising: about three-quarters of all in-coming freshman have had prior mental health counseling, and at least half are taking psychotropic medications. That doesn't necessarily mean they know how to manage their emotions, nor their meds without help; all the more reason to help them build those skills, however.
The larger implication of this is financial. Expanding mental health services can be tough to do because they are not tied to a revenue stream, however several administrators on the panel indicated that student attrition rates due to mental health concerns continue to rise. As The Ohio State University Counseling and Consultation Service Director Micky Sharma, PsyD, told the audience during the symposium: colleges are in the business of selling hope, a hope for a better future. But if kids drop out because they feel hopeless while attending the institution, there will be a cost.
Join us for docu-mental's CrossTalk event on April 4, 2018, at the Arts Club of Washington when we address these issues and discuss how to help the next generation of professionals learn to build self care skills. For more information,