Resources for counseling and mental health issues
Health Issues and College Students: What Advisors Can Do
by: Ruth Harper and Meghan Peterson
health is clearly linked to retention and academic performance (Backels
& Wheeler, 2001). Academic advisors find that mental health
issues interfere with student success more than ever before. Young
(2004) brought these issues to light in The Chronicle of Higher
Education article, 'Prozac Campus.' Today several excellent
resources are available to advisors who want to be informed and
capable to assist the students who struggle with these problems.
faculty and staff members note that complex and even clinical issues
are more prevalent among the students they teach and advise. Kadison
& DiGeronimo (2004), in the recent book College of the Overwhelmed:
The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It, confirm
that a rising number of students are coping with depression, anxiety,
and other major mental health challenges.
counseling centers across the country report increased frequency
and severity of students' mental health concerns. Two major studies
document these observations. At Kansas State University,
counseling center staff conducted a retrospective analysis of client
problems over 13 years (Benton, Robertson, Tseng,Newton,
2003). Corroborating their suspicions, the K-State researchers found
a significant increase in student psychopathology in 14 out of 19
areas, e.g., depression, suicidal thoughts, sexual assaults, personality
disorders, and the like. Kitzrow (2003) published a literature review
related to the mental health needs of today's college students.
Citing a survey of directors of college counseling centers, Kitzrow
reported that from 1996 - 2001, 85% saw more severe psychological
problems. In addition, respondents described more cases of learning
disabilities, self-injury incidents, eating disorders, alcohol and
drug use, warnings to third parties, and stalking.
are students so anxious and depressed? Today's students deal with
cross-cultural issues, family dysfunction, poor frustration tolerance,
experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and weak interpersonal attachments
(Kitzrow, 2003). Greg Kneser, Dean of Students at St. Olaf College
in Northfield, MN, notes that many students lead 'hyper-enriched
lives', with their cell phones, computers, classes, jobs, sports,
travel, volunteer work, and more (Kneser, 2004); all this is too
much to handle for some students.
unreadiness also plays a role. Many college students were awarded
superior grades in high school without learning how to study. Each
year, the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) asks
entering students how much time they spent doing high school homework.
Nationally (2002) more than 60% of entering freshmen indicate that
that they spent less than six hours per week studying even though
90% earned a high school grade point average of B or higher (Higher
Education Research Institute, 2002). Inadequate
study habits create enormous stress and anxiety for college students.
happens once these stressed and often underprepared students experience
college? A Web search of the words 'college students,' 'anxiety,'
and 'depression' produced over 45,000 hits. Two Web sites illustrate
the poignancy and impact of depression and anxiety on the lives
of students: CampusBlues.com and TrappedMinds.org.
many students may have bad days or bad moods, depression is more
complex. Silverman (2004) cites a Center for Disease Control (2002)
survey which found that depression, to the extent that it interfered
with typical daily activities for two or more weeks, was reported
by 28.3% of college students. Female students are more likely than
male students to experience serious depression (Silverman, 2004).
Young (2004) indicates that the rate of depression among college
students rose almost five per cent in just the past four years,
with 38% of these students on antidepressant medication and over
25% in therapy (p. A37).
anxiety is high as well. Nationally, over 25% of college students
say they are overwhelmed (Higher
Education Research Institute2002). Levine & Cureton (1998) note that 'in general, students
are coming to college overwhelmed and more damaged than those of
previous years' (p. 95).
change noted on college campuses is the number of students entering
already taking psychotropic medications. Gallagher, Gill, &
Sysko (2000) remark that almost all directors of counseling centers
surveyed noted this increase.
causes these trends? Kadison & DeGeronimo (2004) suggest that
in addition to the normal developmental concerns of traditional-aged
college students (identity development issues, changes in lifestyle
and living arrangements, relationship transitions, etc.), today's
students are pressured to get good grades, hold down jobs, and become
involved in college life. Coping with the financial realities of
a college education is also extremely stressful for many. For some
minority, international, first-generation, or immigrant students,
college may mean dealing with new forms of discrimination, a lack
of role models, family expectations, and challenges in daily living
today's students really more disturbed than those in years past?
The simple answer is yes, but in addition to a higher occurrence
of mental health concerns, other factors may be at play. Silverman
(2004) suggests that improved diagnosis, assessment, earlier intervention,
and decreased stigma toward mental illness account for some of the
increases. These factors may bring students to college who might
not previously considered postsecondary education as an option.
It also is important to remember that some mental illnesses, such
as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, have early adult-on-set
that will affect this population (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).
advisors should know the signals of distress: (Office of Student
Life Studies, 2000)
- Decrease in the quality of work
- Too frequent office visits (dependency)
- Listlessness, sleeping in class
- Marked changes in personal hygiene
- Impaired speech or disjointed thoughts
- Threats regarding self or others
- Marked changes in behavior
at the NACADA Region 6 conference in Sioux
21, 2005) compiled the following
additional warning signs:
affect (failure to show emotions)
- Under-responding to academic notice
- Absence from class
- Too much or too little time spent
in the residence hall
- Incongruous affect (smiling while
- Lack of follow-through
- Unable to describe own emotions
can advisors do? Even though most academic advisors are not professional
counselors, they are in positions to notice that a student may be
experiencing stress, or something more challenging. Advisors should
not attempt to provide therapy to students but should use their
excellent communication and observation skills to refer to those
who can assist students. Advisors should be well acquainted with
the campus mental health counselors (or, if services are community
based, know how to refer). While respecting student privacy, advisors
can communicate with faculty members or residence life staff about
their concerns. General comments regarding a student's sudden change
in motivation, for example, can be shared with a hall director although
specific information about grades cannot be shared due to FERPA
and universities should have information, such as counseling center
location and hours, available to students 24/7 on the institution's
website. The University of Texas at Austin has a website that provides a good example: http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/howuse.html. Clear policies and procedures are absolutely vital. Kitzrow
(2003) suggests that all campus personnel take advantage of faculty
and staff development opportunities and seek information about working
with students who have mental health conditions and/or disabilities.
Recognizing and referring students in trouble is one of the very
best things advisors can do!
should be knowledgeable about the student body. Checking the CIRP
data for your campus is a great way to spot potential issues e.g.,
alcohol consumption. For participating colleges, this information
is generally available from the institutional research or assessment
must be familiar with institutional resources beyond the counseling
center, including such services as TRiO Student Support Services,
academic support services, tutoring or mentoring programs, resources
for students with disabilities, and health services. Wellness programs
can be terrific assets for students struggling with stress!
of the resources mentioned here can help academic advisors be more
effective when working with college students who have mental health
challenges. If current trends continue, many more students will
enter college with mental health concerns. Early intervention, referral
to appropriate resources, and supportive academic advising can be
crucial to the success of these students.
Nursing Student Services Coordinator
South Dakota State University
- Resources for counseling and mental health issues
Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington,DC:
Backels,K. & Wheeler I.(2001). Faculty perceptions
of mental health issues among college
students. Journal of College Student Development, 42,
S. A., Robertson, J. M., Wen-Chih, T.,Newton, F. B., & Benton, S. L.
(2003). Changes in counseling
center client problems across 13 years. Professional Psychology:
Research and Practice ,
for Disease Control and Prevention (2001). Surveillance Summaries,
June 28,2002, MMWR 2002: 51 (No. SS-4).
R., Gill, A., & Sysko, H. (2000). National survey of counseling
center directors .Alexandria,VA: International Association
of Counseling Services.
Education Research Institute (2002). Cooperative Institutional
Research Program (CIRP). Higher Education Research Institute,
R. & DiGeronimo, T.F. (2004). College of the overwhelmed:
The campus mental health
crisis and what to do about it .San Francisco:
M. A. (2003). The mental health needs of today's college students:
Challenges and recommendations. NASPA Journal, 41 (1), 165-179.
G. (2004, April). College students leading hyper-enriched lives. St. Olaf E-newsletter .
A., & Cureton, S. (1998). When hope
and fear collide: A portrait of today's college student. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
of Student Life Studies. (November, 2002). Noncognitive factors
that influence student learning. A Quarterly Summary of Challenges
to Student Learning, 4, 1-3. Cape Girardeau, MO: Southeast
Missouri State University. Retrieved at http://www5.semo.edu/stulifestudies/nov00.pdf
M.M. (2004). College student suicide prevention: Background and
blueprintfor action. Student
Health Spectrum, 13-20.
J. R. (November 30, 2004). Prozac campus. The Chronicle of
Higher Education , p. A37-A38.
this resource using APA style as:
R. & Peterson, M. (2005).Mental
health issues and college students. NACADA Clearinghouse of
Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/141/article.aspx