Why demand for counseling spiked—and what colleges are doing about it

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Why demand for counseling spiked—and what colleges are doing about it

As more students use campus mental health services than ever before, many people assume that today’s college students are simply less resilient than students of previous generations. But mental health professionals suspect that there are several other factors at play.

For instance, Lisa Adams, past president of the American College Counseling Association and current director of counseling at the University of West Georgia (UWG), suspects more students seek counseling because initiatives to expand and destigmatize these services in higher education are actually working.

Greater mental health access and information has also allowed students to arrive on campus with pre-existing mental conditions. Adams explains that 20 years ago, these students wouldn’t have had the proper medication or support to manage their symptoms and attend college.

Other counselors suggest social media and technology are to blame for the growing demand for mental health services. “You’ve just created a faster pace world for them,” explains Charlene Patterson, the counseling center director at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). “They’re barraged with constant inquiry, constant response to all kinds of issues.”

Still, the experts acknowledge that some students may not have received adequate exposure to stress and failure growing up thanks to overinvolved parents. Some students “seem to experience a bit of anxiety and not know what to do with it,” Adams points out.

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Regardless of the reason, counseling demand is soaring. At UWG, the number of students seeking counseling services has gone up 52% in two years. Pennsylvania State University‘s Center for College Mental Health, which gathers information from nearly 150 colleges, saw the number of students seeking help for anxiety rise from 18% in 2013-14 to 24% in 2016-17 and the number of students seeking help for depression rise from 15% in 2013-14 to 18% in 2016-17.

Many campus counseling centers are expanding their services and experimenting with new tactics to accommodate the rising number of students seeking support. For example, Nebraska Wesleyan University and UNO are implementing lunch sessions to both raise awareness about mental health and provide support and camaraderie for students. And Hastings College and Creighton University are promoting the use of emotional support animals.

Others are rolling out resilience programs that teach students to cope with failure and stress. For example, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is working on a program called Big Red Resilience that will train students to help their peers in need (Ruggles, Omaha World-Herald, 8/5).

Keep reading: This 10-hour online program helps students build resilience

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