The student mental health crisis is a call to action


I taught in college for almost 30 years. Never have so many students told me they were depressed. I’ve never had so many students stop taking classes or drop out so close to graduation.

When I look at the faces of the students, I sometimes see the thousand-yard stare – a look of exhaustion, sadness and defeat.

I know that thousand yard stare because I used to have it. I tell students that I used to sit in a classroom instead of standing in front of it. When I talk about my depression in class, that look becomes more of a look. They listen, I think, because they’re not used to adults talking about mental health issues.

I posted a short video on our department’s website telling students about my own struggles with depression. I tell them to consult if they suffer from depression or anxiety. I waited until I was 40 before consulting. Don’t make the same mistake, I tell them.

October 6 is National Depression Screening Day. Shouldn’t every day be National Depression Screening Day?

College students are experiencing a mental health crisis, and college and university administrations are not doing enough to address it.

Boston University published a study earlier this year, which revealed that student mental health has been in steady decline over the past eight years. The researchers said the number of students who experienced one or more mental health issues had doubled since 2013.

The Mayo Clinic reported in July that up to 44% of students reported having symptoms of depression and anxiety. Symptoms, according to the medical center, include difficulty with schoolwork, loss of interest in social engagements, changes in eating or sleeping habits, emotional outbursts, feeling overwhelmed, panic , low self-esteem, lack of energy and thoughts of self. -harm.

The college years have always been marked by anxiety as students try to navigate life away from home for the first time. But college life has been torn apart by the pandemic.

Yale University researchers attribute the rise in mental illness on college campuses in part to the isolation caused by the pandemic. Students who used to socialize with each other found themselves alone on social media rather than hanging out with their friends. Students and teachers met on Zoom rather than in classrooms. With Zoom, it was easy to disconnect and turn inward.

If you have the flu or COVID-19, you must self-isolate. But that doesn’t work with depression. It just makes you more depressed.

What are colleges and universities doing to meet the demands of students with mental health issues? Not enough – and their inaction exacerbates the problem.

Many students nationwide “turn to their campus counseling services for help – only to encounter limited staff, paperwork, restrictions on the length of services and long wait times.” Forbes magazine wrote in July.

Students can turn to their professors to talk about their mental health issues, but faculty members are not trained to provide advice. In addition, they struggle with their own mental health issues. In a survey of teachers Led by researchers at Boston University, half of those surveyed said institutions need to do more to support their psychological well-being.

It is up to administrators to take the lead on this issue. They must approach mental illness with the same sense of urgency that they have approached the coronavirus. But this is not the case.

If college administrators continue to neglect the mental health crisis, they do so at their peril. Enrollment in colleges and universities has declined. Studies show that mental illness is the number one reason students drop out of college or delay graduation.

Administrators want students to do well in college. They should also want the students to be well. Untreated mental health issues undermine both of these goals.

Perhaps administrators are waiting for the right day to deal with the mental health crisis.

October 6 is National Depression Screening Day.

Chris Lamb is chair of the journalism and public relations department at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

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