The Public's Health: Mental Health on Campus | Public Health Post

College students experience highs and lows. But with more than 10% of today’s students reporting suicidal thoughts, the highest rate since the first widespread surveying on campuses, the lows appear to have deepened. College counselors point to growing stress and distress among students, with more than a third reporting that they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, most often anxiety or depression, but also increasingly with eating disorders and forms of self-harm. There is considerable variation across schools, not explained by school size or competitiveness, but there remains a consistently higher prevalence of all mental health problems among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (financial stress is the most common risk factor) and among students with minority gender and sexual orientations.
While only a small proportion of students report they would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment, few avail themselves of such services. Only about half of students with apparent symptoms seek formal care. Too many prefer to deal with issues on their own or believe that they don’t have enough time to get help. Others question the seriousness of their needs, believing that overwhelming stress is normal in college or that problems will get better on their own. Stigma remains on campuses insofar as students don’t think their fellow students share attitudes as generous as their own toward those with mental health problems. 
There is a clear-cut case for investment in campus mental health services: 30% of depressed students eventually drop out and research suggests that one-fifth of this drop-out rate can be averted by early intervention and treatment. Which means for every 500 incoming students, a robust mental health system would help 30 more students complete college, adding about $1 million in tuition to that school. Based on the cost of providing mental health services, for every $1 spent on such services, there is a $2 increase in school revenue.
This calculation presents only a narrow perspective. Since lifetime earnings follow from successful graduation, there is even greater value to an at-risk student if they are not derailed by a mental health problem during college. Screening and intervention programs are investments in academic achievement and will have downstream effects on the public’s health.
Untreated mental health problems are connected to every aspect of student life. The eating, sleeping, and drinking behaviors of college students continue to be maladaptive, leading to increased ill effects. Mental health service providers at and around campuses are busy. They should probably be busier.
Michael Stein & Sandro Galea