Colleges and universities across the United States are focusing attention on the increasing prevalence of student mental health needs and how to effectively provide support. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s (CCMH’s) 2016 annual report, the number of students who visit counseling centers has increased by an average of 30% to 40% from 2009 to 2015, which indicates growth at a rate five times greater than that of institutional enrollment. Recent surveys indicate that depression and anxiety are the two most common reasons why students seek counseling center services (CCMH, 2018; Reetz, Bershad, LeViness, & Whitlock, 2016). And the American College Health Association’s (2018) annual National College Health Assessment found that approximately 60% of survey respondents reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety” and almost 40% reported feeling so depressed that “it was difficult to function” at some point over the past 12 months (p. 14). The academic, financial, and social pressures faced on campus can mentally and emotionally exhaust students, and research suggests that depression can negatively impact a student’s ability to learn and persist in school (DeRoma, Leach, & Leverett, 2009).
The influx of students seeking on-campus mental health services is an important issue that requires institutions of all types and sizes to rethink policies, practices, and overall systems of care. Drawing from a review of existing literature, expert-developed frameworks and toolkits, and elements of promising campus models, this issue of Policy and Practice offers counselors and student affairs professionals strategies for effectively supporting the mental health needs of today’s students.
Investing in student mental health supports and services is a consequential investment in student learning, development, and success. There is no one best model of care; the design of an institution’s mental health support efforts will depend on the specific campus context and the realities faced by its students and campus practitioners. Effective systems of campus mental health support require a thorough understanding of relevant laws, areas of liability, student needs, and institutional capacities; strategic planning and implementation of student-centered processes and policies; and a campuswide commitment to collaboration and communication. This brief explores some of the complex, interweaving aspects of campus mental health supports. Although this brief does not offer legal guidance, it does overview the key federal laws governing the decisions made by campus health professionals and counselors regarding students’ health, privacy, and safety. The information and recommendations outlined in this document should serve as a resource for campuses to consider as they continue to advance the health and well-being of their students while grappling with limited resources.