The demand for mental health services on campus is higher than ever. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the number of students seeking mental health services was growing five times faster than enrollment.
Colleges have struggled to both expand services quickly enough to keep up with the explosion of demand and provide students with effective treatment options, explains Randy Auerbach, an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“The rising demand for services and increasing complexity of students’ mental health concerns has prompted difficult questions about the scope of campus care,” according to research from EAB‘s Student Affairs Forum. “Institutions increasingly recognize that they cannot provide all types of services to all students with finite resources.”
To help fill the gap in campus mental health services, psychologist Laura Braider and psychiatrist Blaine Greenwald launched the Behavioral Health College Partnership (BHCP), a mental health program run by Northwell Health that partners with more than 77 colleges in the New York metropolitan area, reports Cheryl Weinstock for NPR.
“We saw a lack of ability to effectively treat college students in need of care. These students are not adults and not children and need specialized programming to meet their needs,” says Braider.
BHCP helps students in crisis by offering emergency evacuations so that students can be assessed by professionals and begin treatment without delay.
And because schools partner with hospitals, they’re able to bypass calling 911, which would be standard practice for colleges if staff believe a student in crisis is unsafe—but is often mortifying for students, says Braider. “We try to minimize any secondary trauma to students who are already overwhelmed,” she adds.
Once students enter the program, they receive counseling, medication, and inpatient treatment, if necessary. Students who require inpatient care are treated in a dorm-like environment where they can retain a sense of normalcy and find camaraderie among peers.
“It was more like being in a college dorm,” says Queens College student Alexia Phillips of her time in inpatient care. “Everyone was really nice and I made friends there. The kids were all like me. We could talk openly about how we felt.”
How BHCP supports the return to campus
Students who leave school to get treated for a mental health crisis can struggle to transition back to campus, writes Weinstock. Some will face the stress of catching back up with classes and finishing their semester on time.
So Braider and Greenwald designed BHCP to help students return to campus following treatment—and support them during the transition. The program does this, in part, by allowing “communication to seamlessly flow” between the hospital, the college’s counselors and administration, and the student throughout the treatment process, explains Braider. She adds that open communication helps the college work with students to plan how they can catch up academically.
“Once the hospital gives us their report when a student is released saying that the student is well and ready to be integrated back into school we accept that. We work hard to get the student back into school,” explains Barbara Moore, a psychologist and director of Queens College Counseling. “We try the best way we can to figure out a transition that works well for them.”
Marta Hopkinson, a psychiatrist and director of mental health at the University Health Center at the University of Maryland, suggests that BHCP and similar specialized mental health programs “fill an important void for college students.”
“Most schools can’t expand enough to meet the demands of all the students who want and need psychotherapy,” she adds. “We’re all working to prevent these kids from falling through the cracks.”
Read more about student mental health
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As colleges struggle to keep up with the explosion of demand for mental health services, students are taking matters into their own hands.