Student mental health has been a top concern for most colleges and universities in recent years. Demand for counseling center appointments grew five times faster than enrollment between 2009 and 2015. Most campuses have made investments in counseling center staff, but the frantic pace of hiring is unsustainable and still doesn’t meet demand.
Diagnosed major depressive episodes continue to rise in adolescents, increasing more than 30% between 2005-2015 . Suicide deaths increased 33% from 1999 to 2017, with the greatest rate of increase seen among adolescents and young adults. Girls appear especially vulnerable: suicide deaths for girls 10 to 14 years old increased 240% from 1999 to 2017.
Given the stress involved in the transition between high school and college, it’s especially concerning for higher education leaders that an estimated 80% of 3-17 year-olds with a diagnosable mental health disorder don’t receive adequate treatment. As a result, institutions must develop a comprehensive, campus-wide strategy for mental health and well-being in the age of Gen Z.
Impacts of mental health challenges
- The volume and severity of mental health issues continues to overwhelm counseling center resources.
- An increasingly diverse student body demands diverse counseling center staff.
- Students expect 24/7 access to support, leading to institutional investment in around-the-clock tele-counseling services and/or digital counseling platforms.
- Sharp increase in requests for housing and learning accommodation overwhelms staff across campus.
- Students and their families compare institutions’ well-being resources when assessing college options
- Employers expect that institutions prepare students to manage their mental health in the workplace.
Top challenges for student affairs
While colleges and universities have made numerous investments in self-service and non-clinical mental health supports, few have had the bandwidth to assemble a framework that maps students’ concerns with the full array of mental health care resources. At the same time, student affairs leaders still struggle to unite other cabinet leaders around a strategic plan for holistic mental health and well-being support.
Organizational siloes and conflicting attitudes about the severity of the problem and the role of the institution prevents effective cross-campus collaboration.
The current piecemeal approach preserves the status quo of escalating student distress due to lengthy counseling appointment wait times and leaves major investments underutilized.
Beyond student affairs: The impact of rising student mental health challenges across campus
The volume and complexity of mental health concerns is the new normal in the age of Gen Z. We asked EAB experts to share how this force impacts the whole institution. Here are some of their top insights:
Faculty struggle with how to best support students with mental health concerns, so they direct students to an already-overwhelmed counseling center when their problems are best addressed by other resources
Prospective students and their families inquire about mental health and well-being resources, and having sophisticated support is a competitive advantage.
Emotional support animals cause expensive and time-consuming damage to residence halls and campus grounds.
Impact of Gen Z’s mindset on campus
Gen Z culture of cost-consciousness has made this generation consider total cost of attendance very important to their college choice.
As digital natives, the relationship between gen z and social media has shaped expectations and formed challenges for student affairs and across campus.
Gen Z values emphasizing transparency and authenticity means they expect more information and input on institutional decisions. Meeting students’ expectations for transparency and access to decision-makers requires more dedicated time from top leaders across the institution.
Students expect to see their Gen Z demographics reflected in higher ed staff, programs, services, curriculum, and fellow students. Leaders must remove barriers to equity and include diverse identities in the classroom and the curriculum.