Dorms, dining halls and depression: College students at risk

The awareness of depression as a human condition is not modern or new. The earliest written accounts of the condition emerged from the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia when it was seen as more spiritual than physical. Through the ages, depression came to be explained in terms of demons and evil spirits; as an imbalance in bodily fluids; or as a weakness in temperament. Today, we understand depression to be a complicated condition with roots in biological, psychological and social factors.

We’ve come a long way since the Mesopotamian writings. It is with good reason that October is recognized as Depression Awareness Month; we need to continually draw attention to this all-too-common condition. More than 7 percent of American adults have had at least one major depressive episode, but only 35 percent of those people received treatment. While depression is on the rise for all age groups, it is rising the fastest among teens and young adults. That rise is particularly amplified on college campuses.

Demand for student behavioral health services greater than ever

College students are feeling the pressure. The data from two large annual surveys of undergraduates from 2007-2018 reveal that suicidal thinking, severe depression and rates of self-injury more than doubled. From 2010 to 2015, the use of college counseling centers grew by 30 percent while enrollment increased only by 5 percent during those years.

However, in spite of the growth in accessing campus mental health services, students are still not accessing services relative to need: directors at small colleges reported that the average percent of students seeking services is 9-12 percent and 6-7 percent at larger colleges and universities.

The explanation for the lack of accessing services relative to need may be two-pronged: campus resources can’t keep up with the demand, and students – especially those students with suicidal ideation – may be avoiding them for the fear of being expelled or put on medical leave.

New augments the old

To address both of these issues – inadequate resources and student reluctance to seek services – Beacon Health Options created an EAP for college students – Beacon Wellbeing: Student Assistance Program. The program offers digital solutions to help colleges meet student demand and to afford students the options, the privacy and convenience of telehealth and online solutions.

Able to supplement existing college mental health services, digital solutions offer online educational content, self-help tools, virtual therapy visits and more.

Digital solutions’ value lies in choice, privacy

Perhaps the greatest value of digital solutions lies in the choice and privacy that they provide for a population exceedingly comfortable with technology, even for addressing their mental health concerns. One study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research reveals that young adults view social media-based interventions for mental health treatment as “highly usable, engaging and supportive”.

Perhaps the greatest value of digital solutions lies in the choice and privacy that they provide for a population exceedingly comfortable with technology, even for addressing their mental health concerns.

Further, for students who live in the very defined environment of a campus, digital technology skirts the stigma associated with mental health. There is little or no coming in or out of the counseling center, which eliminates the fear of being expelled or put on medical leave for suicidal ideation or other serious issue. Digital solutions add another layer of privacy that this generation of students can appreciate.

Digital technology, therefore, adds a dimension to campus mental health services that goes beyond adding to the status quo. Hiring more on-campus counselors has not kept up with the demand. The ease, privacy, convenience and choice of digital solutions change the complexion of mental health services in a way that gets students to improve their mental health. It’s the difference that makes a difference.


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