College Student Mental Health Statistics and What They Really Mean

College Student Mental Health Statistics - Photo of a Stressed Student

There has been a lot of media attention to college student mental health statistics and to the upsurge in demand for mental health services. But does the data really suggest a mental health "crisis"? What does the upsurge actually mean for postsecondary institutions? Where do we need to shift the conversation, and what do we need to do next? Learn more in the infographic and article below.

by Sarah Seigle Peatman

What the Upsurge in Demand for Mental Health Services Means (and Doesn't Mean)

The first thing I want to underscore is that institutions are facing an unprecedented level of demand from students seeking help and support for mental health issues. Counseling centers are not new on campus--and mental health services are certainly not new--but the upsurge in volume from students accessing these services is. The two main presenting issues we're seeing in students are anxiety and depression.

The other issue institutions are concerned about but that is statistically much less frequent is suicidality. If you read the press on this topic, there are a lot of articles that emphasize the number of college students committing suicide. That's obviously a horrible mental health outcome and something institutions are investing prevention and education efforts around, but many of the mental health and counseling practitioners I've spoken with at colleges and universities emphasize that suicide rates among college students are in fact comparable to or lower than the national averages. There is a grain of truth in the feeling among practitioners that when the press addresses student suicide or labels it a "crisis," the issue is a little overhyped.

The other side of it that we can't forget is that for decades, both in higher ed and in the mental health space in general, physicians and health promotions professionals have been working to normalize mental health, destigmatize it, make it safer for people to come forward and seek help for mental health issues they're struggling with.

In reality, it is a good problem to have that students are coming forward in such large numbers to access counseling services. It is evidence that higher education and the mental health community have moved the needle on this work. That is the piece of the narrative that gets left out of a lot of the press around this issue.

Let's look at the data:

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