1201 GMT December 10, 2019
“We have seen an absolute explosion,” said Dr. Jessica Miller, director of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)’s Counseling Center.
According to indianagazette.com, the university’s Health Services reported seeing 122 patients with a mental health diagnosis this fall, compared with 56 in the fall of 2017, 54 in the fall of 2016 and 39 in the fall of 2015.
And Dr. Charles J. Fey, interim vice president for student affairs, said there was an increase for a seventh straight year in the number of students most concerned about a “threat to self.”
Miller and other IUP officials told the committee that it is part of a nationwide trend.
According to an October report quoted by the health care-oriented WebMD, anxiety, depression and panic attacks are sending college students in the United States to mental health clinics in record numbers.
Between 2009 and 2015, the HealthDay News report on the WebMD website said, treatment and diagnoses of anxiety increased by nearly six percent among these students, followed by depression and panic attacks, which each increased about three percent.
Researchers led by Sara Oswalt, chairwoman of the Department of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition at the University of Texas at San Antonio, found anxiety is the most common problem, affecting almost 15 percent of college students across the nation.
HealthDay News reported that Oswalt and her colleagues used data from the American College Health Association to collect information on more than 450,000 undergraduates.
It’s not clear if the college environment is causing or even contributing to the increase in these problems, Oswalt told HealthDay News, but if mental health problems aren’t addressed, success in school is jeopardized.
IUP officials could offer evidence of that, telling the Student Affairs Committee of an 0.4-point decline in the grade point average among students with anxiety and mild to severe depression.
And it is part an overall increase in the number of students seeking medical assistance, at a university that can provide care to 100 or more students each day.
Director of Health Services Melissa Dick said 5,619 students utilized Health Services in the past year, compared to 5,568 five years ago — when IUP had far more students, 14,369 then to 11,325 this fall.
Miller said various factors are driving the demand for additional mental health services, including a reduced stigma about seeking such care.
“Students are much more open to seeking services,” Miller said.
In fact, they’ve been so open that there’s a backlog, with 55 students on a waitlist for appointments at mid-semester.
That’s despite things the university is doing, such as moving to a triage model to assess students on the same day and having walk-in hours Monday through Friday between 1 and 3 p.m. at the health center in the Suites on Maple East.
A clinical case manager has been added as well to expedite local referrals and enroll eligible students in medical assistance.
Miller also illustrated factors contributing to the increase, including substance abuse, social media, intensified expectations, new parenting styles and the political climate.
Miller said so far this year there have been 25 calls from parents expressing concern about their children at IUP.
Also addressing the Student Affairs Committee were Drs. Dan Burkett and Sondra Dennison, co-conveners of the Concern and Response Team, where IUP students, faculty, and staff can seek advice about a student’s observed behaviors.
They said collaboration across the university community to implement effective intervention is essential to ensuring student success and retention.