Good mental health is vital for a successful college experience. Trying to balance school, work, relationships or other personal issues could easily cause a student stress. In a 2008 joint survey by the Associated Press and mtvU, as many as 80 percent of college students reported feeling stressed on a daily basis and 34 percent said they felt depressed.
Despite the high number of students who experience stress or depression, not many seek help from their school’s respective counseling centers. College counseling centers can offer a variety of services for students’ mental health needs, often free of charge. Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health, CCMH, annual reports offer an insight on what some students are seeking help for the most.
CCMH is the nation’s largest database on college student mental health. Each year CCMH puts out annual reports based on data collected from their coalition of more than 400 counseling centers at colleges and universities internationally, meaning report results only apply to students who use their school’s counseling.
The 2016 report found that the most common concerns for students seeking counseling were anxiety and depression. They are also the main areas of student distress that are showing gradual growth. The report also found the rate of “threat to self” characteristics, defined as “nonsuicidal injury and serious suicidal ideation,” increased for the sixth year in a row.
The report stated that “a minority of students utilize a majority of services” and the most common number of appointments per student was one. Few students are seeking help from their school’s counseling centers and many that do, abruptly end their treatment before they have a chance for improvement. Only 26 percent of students completed their treatment goal.
Ashley Stauffer is the project manager of CCMH and also works with clients on a part-time basis at Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Stauffer talks about the importance of school counseling centers and suggest students who are in search of help not to be discouraged and to reach out to their school’s counseling center.
“I suggest students to give a call to get an idea of what it is like and schedule just one appointment,” says Stauffer. “I have a lot of clients who see me one time and say ‘I was only going to attend the one session and this is actually helpful and much different than I thought it’ll be.’”
Students should put aside any assumptions of what they think counseling will be like. The only way to find out is to experience counseling services first hand. Stauffer knows all too well what presumptions students have going into counseling services that they’ve had proven untrue.
“They typically think that you’re lying on the couch, not looking at the therapist while [the student] just talks,” says Stauffer.
School counseling centers follow the same standards and regulations as those off campus. They provide the same confidential and judgement-free counseling. Counseling services vary from school to school but many offer individual counseling, group counseling and can offer referrals for help outside of school. Depending on the center’s policies, students can make an appointment or walk in to receive counseling.
According to the 2016 CCMH report, the number of students seeking help increased 30 percent since last year. Counseling centers are considerably becoming an essential part of any college campus. Students should take advantage of every resource available to them while in school that could help them achieve the best college experience.
“During college, a student’s number one job is to succeed academically and graduate from their institution,” says Stauffer. “When students are navigating stressors such as adjusting to college, breakups, homesickness or more serious mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression, that makes ‘showing-up for work’ more difficult. Counseling centers are there to help students obtain their goal of graduating on-time, despite all of the ups and downs.”
Experiencing anxiety can be new for students. Anxiety disorder is a common mental health problem for college students and many people experience their first episode of anxiety by the age of 22 according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. So even though a student has never had pre-existing mental health concerns, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored and seeking counseling is one way to guarantee good mental health.
Another important thing students should keep in mind is that they should not allow their own perception of their issue’s severity to prevent them from seeking help. Counseling centers are there to help with any and all problems a student is dealing with that is interfering with school performance.
“Issues are contextual, context is different for everyone,” says Stauffer. “Everyone has ‘stuff,’ no matter who you are or where you come from. Students shouldn’t minimize their struggles and seek help so they can continue doing well in school.”
More information regarding school counseling centers can usually be found under student health services or student resources on a school’s website. Setting up a consultation can be as easy as picking up a phone or sending an e-mail. Using the services provided to them by their school can open a path for students to begin their mental health treatment at a time when they need to the most and help them begin to open up.
“They always have time available to help with whatever concerns,” says Stauffer. “Just talking about what’s on their mind, even on a short term basis, can help a student.”