Are We in Crisis? National Mental Health and Treatment Trends in College Counseling Centers

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Abstract

The current state of college student mental health is frequently labeled a “crisis,” as the demand for services and severity of symptomatology have appeared to increase in recent decades. Nationally representative findings are presented from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a practice research network based in the United States, composed of more than 340 university and college counseling centers, in an effort to illuminate trends in symptom severity and patterns in treatment utilization for the campus treatment seeking population. Clinical data collected over 5 academic years (2010–2015) showed small but significantly increasing trends for self-reported distress in generalized anxiety, depression, social anxiety, family distress, and academic distress, with the largest effect sizes observed for generalized anxiety, depression, and social anxiety. On the other hand, a significantly decreasing trend was observed for substance use. No significant changes were observed for eating concerns and hostility. Utilization data over 6 years indicated a gradual yet steady increase in the number of students seeking services (beyond the rate expected with increasing institutional enrollment), as well as increases in the number of appointments scheduled and attended, with great variation between centers. Within the context of changing national trends, we conclude that it is advisable to consider the specific needs of local centers to best accommodate distinct student bodies.

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