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Looking For A College That Takes Mental Care Seriously? Here's What To Look For

While health counseling and mental health care services are available on most campuses, many students often don't know that the services exist. End result? Precious resources go unused. If you're looking for a college that takes mental health care seriously, consider these four questions to ask.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Education
Looking For A College That Takes Mental Care Seriously? Here's What To Look For

While health counseling and mental health care services are available on most campuses, many students often don't know that the services exist. End result? Precious resources go unused.

Student demand for mental health services is rising. The national Center for Collegiate Mental Health based at Penn State Universtiy revealed that in the 2015-2016 school year, the number of students seeking mental health services increases every year, with the year prior seeing an increase of 29.6 percent of students seeking help.

The biggest increases? Medication use, hospitalizations, and suicide attempts among college students.

The new demand for mental health services reflects something positive, though--a slow breakdown of stigmas, and increased access to college by students who traditionally would have been overlooked.

While having services doesn't solve the whole problem, it's a start.

Many mental health centers on college campuses are also working to expand their palette of services to offer students more in terms of prevention initiatives, hotlines, and faculty training.

If you're looking for a college campus that takes mental health services seriously, ask these questions:

1. Does the college offer a support network? Is it well-funded?

Here's what you want: well-advertised, well-supported drop-in counseling services, university well-being advisers and mentors, and faculty liaisons.

You're looking for support from the time you first get accepted. From new student orientations to new student counseling, and services for existing and transfer students. You want it all.

Just ask Elliot Bush, whom The Guardian interviewed for a recent piece on university health services.

Elliot suffered a breakdown during the first weeks of a new term, took a year off, and decided to choose a new university to study based on the university' wellbeing services.

Elliot, who identifies as non-binary, says, "I wanted to start again, somewhere new. This time I made sure I was prepared. I went to wellbeing service stands at open days and online; I sought out reviews of how each university handled mental health. I asked how tutors responded, how organized the wellbeing service was, and about the quality of the local GP or campus medical service."

Elliot adds, "Sometimes everyone needs a bit of extra support. University is exciting, but can also be daunting – for most students its the first time living away from home, making new friends, settling in, alongside academia. Familiarising yourself with the services also means you’ll be able to support a friend should they need help."

2. Is the staff trained to identify mental health issues among their students?

This is key. It's not enough just to have plenty of services. The faculty and staff need to be invested in delivering them, too.

In the UK, some colleges and universities have embraced a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, which offers training days for faculty and staff.

MHFA courses are taking off among student groups, too.

If you're in the US, look for Mental Health First Aid training from the National Council For Behavioral Health.

The investment in services should be clear and obvious. Ask around at student health services to start.

3. Does the university have an action plan?

Comprehensive plans involving data collection on mental health treatment is critical to a campus's commitment to mental health services.

There should be data--or a plan to collect data--on ambulance trips, mental health emergencies, health care providers, and students.

Ask if the university has a plan at student health services or at a dean's or provost's office.

4. Are you having trouble finding out what are the mental health resources on campus?

If you can't get anywhere or find out any information about mental health resources on campus, then that campus might not be a great fit for you. If you`re a remote student, there are several ways to get mental health help online.

Talk with advisers, mentors, student services, and health services offices.

If mental health services aren't clear and present, then steer clear--that campus doesn't have prominent mental health services.

Bottom line? Make a good choice that works for your needs. Don't be shy about asking questions and getting the help you need to have a successful university experience.