On a recent edition of PBS NewsHour, reporter Hari Sreenivasan talked with a leader in the field of college counseling and the editor of a series in The Chronicle of Higher Education on college students’ mental health issues.
GWEN IFILL: As students head back to campus, colleges and universities across the country are facing a growing demand for mental health care.
Schools have long provided counseling, but, increasingly, colleges are facing new dilemmas about how to best treat a student, especially one at risk. About one in four students reporting to campus counseling centers now are already on some kind of psychotropic medicine. The Chronicle of Higher Education examined this in a new series about what it calls an epidemic of anguish. JENNIFER RUARK, The Chronicle of Higher Education: Well, we found that colleges are seeing an increase in the number of students who report to counseling centers with anxiety disorders, with clinical depression.
And they’re also seeing more incidents of serious situations that need immediate intervention. HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Micky Sharma, I’m watching, and I’m thinking about this and saying, well, listen, haven’t the stresses of moving away from home, perhaps the big breakup with the girlfriend or boyfriend or partner, bombing a test when you get there, hasn’t that been around for decades, as long as college has been around? MICKY SHARMA, Ohio State University: Well, I think there’s many things that have caused some of these changes that Jennifer alluded to. I think the stigma regarding mental health has decreased locally here at Ohio State and nationally across the country.
We have students in this generation that are working and growing up in a very fast-paced society.
Traditionally, historically, depression was always the number one thing that students brought to university counseling centers. In a couple of your stories, I found that one school really tried to send the kid away as fast as possible to get help, and another school didn’t. JENNIFER RUARK: Every school obviously wants its students to be in an environment where learning is possible, both for the troubled individual and for the rest of his or her classmates.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Micky Sharma, you are at one of the biggest schools in the country, probably better-resourced than, say, community colleges or graduate schools around the country that might also be dealing with these populations and these challenges. But what are the appropriate boundaries for an institution of learning today between caring for the mental, the physical, the emotional, the psychological well-being of a person, because someone is going to ask, listen, wasn’t your job just to be a university or a college and help teach?
MICKY SHARMA: So, I think that the job of the university is to provide as much as it can in terms of support services to help students be academically successful. So, for many university counseling centers, what we’re doing is providing short-term treatment and on a time-limited basis at many centers, so that we’re able to provide students and reach as many students as possible. Additionally, many centers have evolved into providing a menu of service options, so the majority of what we do is individual counseling, but there’s a lot of group counseling that we offer, as well as drop-in workshops to get coping strategies, better stress management strategies in the hands of as many students as possible. HARI SREENIVASAN: Jennifer, what did your reporters find about the balancing act that some schools are having to do between trying to have their student populations safe and well cared for on the one hand and balancing privacy rights on the other? JENNIFER RUARK: Well, a college is not going to know whether students come to campus with preexisting mental health conditions, unless the student or his family chooses to disclose that.
About one in four students reporting to campus counseling centers now are already on some kind of psychotropic medicine, in part because of the lifting of the stigma that you referred to earlier. If you have a larger population coming to you year after year who might already have been in therapy for several years before they come to college or if, as Jennifer referred to, if they’re already on prescription medications, what does that do when you have to talk to them first?
MICKY SHARMA: So, in terms of what that does to the services at the university counseling center is, it forces us to look at different ways to reach students. So, as I mentioned before, we do have in our center — the individual therapy is the number one thing that we do, but we also have psychiatrists who provide treatment. I often tell our faculty and staff, just because a student is crying doesn’t mean he or she needs psychotherapy.
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While exam period sees an increase in students seeking mental health support, the issue persists year round.
The final exams period is upon us, and the people providing mental health support to McGill students are about to come under heightened pressure themselves, as the number of requests for help grows with every passing April day.
Student mental health is a growing concern at universities across Canada and around the world.


Here, students in distress can seek help from the professionals from three different Student Services units: Mental Health Services, Counselling Services, and the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) (see the sidebar, below), not to mention the counsel provided by others, like Health Services and Chaplaincy Services. The Counseling Service, part of Counseling and Tutorial Services, offers counseling for psychological or socio-emotional issues and also deal with academic and vocational concerns. In the 2012-13 school year so far, the Service has served more than 3,000 different students, putting in more than 10,000 counseling or therapy hours along the way. The Mental Health Service, meanwhile, is a 20-person team of mostly part-time psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists.
Students typically enter Counseling Services through intake assessment, a first-come, first-served type of triage that takes place between 12 noon and 4 p.m. Both Romano and Franck see the different doors open to students at McGill as one of the strengths of the system here. At the McGill Senate meeting of March 20, in response to a question from a student Senator that suggested the Services were “… unable to meet the demand” for mental health and counseling services “as swiftly and effectively as required,” Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), revealed that the Services had seen a 25-per-cent increase in the number of students presenting themselves at their doors, as well as a 20-per-cent increase in emergency drop-in visits over previous years.
The vast majority of those visits were made by students wanting a note to defer an exam, a complex, even controversial issue in its own right. With existing resources stretched to the limit, and not realistically about to improve, Franck said creative thinking and programs can help deal with the challenges the services face.
A recently announced $500,000 grant (over five years) from Bell Canada to develop an online mental health assessment tool is welcome news indeed.
McGill’s Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) also assists students with mental health problems. The majority of students with mental health issues, or experiencing crisis, are eligible for accommodations under disability provisions, but most of them don’t know about it.
The strategist, Patricia Diaz del Castillo, accompanies students on a one-on-one basis but also runs workshops that seek to guide students towards practices and tools that enable them to keep the manifestations of their anxiety diagnosis to a manageable level. Starting next semester, the OSD will offer three workshops for students with high anxiety and mental health issues that will widen the tools to include navigating campus services for mental health assistance as well as maintaining wellbeing and balance. There is a still crisis brewing on college and university campuses opposite a United States. Improved Mental Health Services: Vastly stretched mental health caring centers with gifted staff, a ability to get an appointment fast (within a week would be preferred), and relations with residential support services would be ideal. There is most some-more that colleges and universities can do to support a mental health needs of their students.
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Students are more apt to reach out and meet with a counselor when they’re struggling with things. You have some college campuses that are able to have an on-site psychiatrist, but there are many that don’t.
That’s what my center is doing, is providing support to students, so that they can come to the university, be successful, graduate, earn a degree, and launch their career.
So, if a faculty member or administrator notices a troubled student or notices signs that a student may be troubled, they can encourage that student to seek counseling and to talk to people, but unless it becomes a crisis situation, they can’t really force the student to seek counseling. But we also look at other forms of resources to provide students, such as psychoeducational programming, the group counseling that we provide to reach more students simultaneously, and look at matching the services to a particular student’s need. Not only during exam periods, and not only at McGill, which does a better job than most at caring for the mental health needs of its student body. Most of the Service’s work is dealing with students who are experiencing some level of personal or emotional distress, and the majority of the staff members are counseling psychologists and certified counselors, as well as one social worker. Most of those hours involved personal counseling, but the service also offers couples counseling. While some may be concerned that too many choices may confuse those who need to seek help, they say that providing options instead of insisting on a single portal avoids alienating those who may uncomfortable with it.
Last year, the Mental Health Service had 25 emergency walks-ins in the first week of April, followed by 40 the second week, 84 the third week and 102 the last week. Appointment books start filling quickly when students return to campus at summer’s end, and an initial two-week wait in the fall can become a four or five-week delay by the time the holiday season rolls around. They need fewer people to reach out to them, so that they in turn can reach out to those who need them the most.


Counseling already offers a variety of workshops and both services hope group sessions will help alleviate the demand problem. Once it is developed, those reluctant or unsure if they need to seek help can use it to assess their mental state and then seek help if they still think they need to.
They will post on Facebook or Twitter, stuff like ‘bummed out,’ ‘haven’t been to class for three days,’ ‘really down,’” Franck said, noting that Residence floor fellows have asked to be Facebook friends with students, if possible.
According to OSD Director Frederic Fovet, about 25 per cent of the 1,400 students the OSD currently serves are affected by mental health issues. The standard accommodation for students in situations of this kind is known as “stop watch.” This means that the student will be able to leave the room if they are in crisis and re-enter once they have stabilized, without seeing their exam time affected.
Many students I know have set aside their learning experience for the sole goal of attaining that prized 4.0 GPA. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page.
Increasingly, the mental health needs of students are more difficult than in a past and can't be sufficient met by overwhelmed mental health services.
It’s probable some-more students now feel gentle seeking assistance in a initial place, instead of bottling adult their problems. There are several measures that colleges and universities can take to support students with building mental health issues, before these issues strech a predicament point. Parents promulgation students off to propagandize should ask about mental health support services and let their children know where to go if they need help.
From advances in drugs and procedures to the reexamination of the tradition procedures such as acupuncture, types of massage and herbal medicines. There’s more awareness of problems, risks and diagnoses, and combined with the stresses of college life, schools are trying to figure out the right course of treatment, counseling and intervention. And now anxiety is the number one presenting problem that students bring to the counseling center at Ohio State, as well as nationally. There are many campuses which don’t have as many hours available at their counseling center, who are staffing the center with interns or trying to rely more on peer education and faculty intervention, simply because they don’t have the resources that they need.
So we’re looking at getting the right level of service to match an individual student’s need. By early April, the Service had already held 17,600 appointments with roughly 3,200 individual students. So somebody might go to Chaplaincy, and in working with the Chaplain, may suddenly reveal something about their story – a history of sexual abuse for example, and then the Chaplain might steer them in a direction where they can get the best and most efficient and effective care for it. But no one is turned away, with both Mental Health and Counseling finding ways to provide immediate assistance to those in serious distress, one way or another. At the same time, de-stress initiatives like those recently undertaken by the Health Promotion Team with their peer-to-peer outreach work can help keep student stress levels in check, and demand down.
The goal of such accommodations is to enable students to complete the exam and the term, rather than ending up with deferred exams which tend to only increase the pressure and the anxiety the following term. The unhappy finish in some cases is that students, incompetent to finish their work and conduct their mental health needs, drop out. Students succumbing to mental health disorders need a event to be in a supported, structured sourroundings and be accountable to adults for day-to-day activities.
Everything from tyro questions about mental health to post-suicide counterpart support should be enclosed in this extensive plan. It is unsuitable to concede students to humour when support services can be done available. Allison Baker, a child psychiatrist with a Child Mind Institute, also forked out that some-more immature people are receiving mental health diagnosis as children, that allows them to go to college in a initial place.
But many college conversing centers are ill-equipped to understanding with these students’ some-more difficult mental health issues. Students shifting toward predicament need daily assistance handling their activities and ensuring they hang to their mental health plan.



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