Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mental Health Survey: College Students Speak

By Dana Crudo, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center program manager

As I imagine most young adults feel, I started my first year of college with nervous anticipation. Going away to college provided a fresh start on a new life but also the pressure to make the most of the opportunity. Also, although I had an exciting future ahead of me, I still had the weight of my past with me that made campus life difficult.

Growing up with a parent with bipolar disorder and brain damage had left its mark on me—I still often experienced anxiety, feelings of powerlessness and isolation while away at school. I still struggled to cope effectively and find people who could understand. I learned quickly that no amount of distance from my family situation could change how I felt or the fact that my childhood didn’t quite match up with those of my peers, which I realized more and more as I socialized with new people my age.

I found hope while reading a campus newspaper article about student depression that mentioned NAMI on Campus, student-led mental health campus clubs. I knew immediately I had found an invaluable resource that could help me and others at my school.

In my junior year of college, I created NAMI’s University of Arizona campus club. Through it I established a wonderful supportive community that really made a positive impact on my life. The club empowered me to learn more about mental health and how to support my family while maintaining my own health. I saw directly how valuable peer support, self-advocacy and knowing you’re not alone can be.

Through our club’ campus-wide mental health awareness activities, student-run discussion group and our partnership with NAMI Southern Arizona (one of many local NAMI Affiliates nationwide), I learned about the issues that all college students face when it comes to mental health and how I can help address these issues.

As I enter my seventh year working for NAMI, I have learned a great deal about the mental health needs of college students. NAMI just recently published a national survey report on the experiences of college students living with mental health conditions. The report is a blueprint for what students want. Here are some highlights:

  • Sixty-four percent of students who stopped attending college are no longer attending because of mental health related reasons. The primary diagnoses of these students are depression, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Seventy-two percent of students experienced a mental health crisis on campus. Yet 34 percent reported that their college did not know about their crisis.
  • Fifty-seven percent of students did not access accommodations through college disability resource centers, often citing that they were unaware such services and supports existed or did not know how to access them. Forty percent of students did not access mental health services and supports at their school.
  • Thirty-six percent students cited stigma as a barrier to accessing their college’s mental health services and supports, making it the number one reason students don’t access treatment.

Students emphasized the critical need for the following services and supports to be available on campus:

  • Mental health training for faculty, staff and students.
  • Suicide prevention programs.
  • Peer-run, student mental health organizations.
  • Mental health information during campus tours, orientation, health classes and other campus-wide events.
  • Walk-in student health centers, 24-hour crisis hotlines, ongoing individual counseling services, screening and evaluation services and comprehensive referrals to off-campus services and supports.

As the survey shows and as other countless research findings have shown, mental health issues impact college students and they need our support. Most will experience these issues for the first time in their lives while attending college—catching them by surprise and leaving them ill-prepared to handle these issues on their own. They are not seeking help because they don’t know where or who to go to or they fear being negatively perceived by their campus community.

Every young adult deserves an understanding, helpful and supportive community like NAMI on Campus to turn to when life gets hard.

That is why NAMI has launched a new NAMI on Campus initiative and our commitment to college students. The NAMI on Campus website includes new resource sections to:

  • Learn more about college mental health.
  • Get involved with NAMI on Campus clubs.
  • Access resources for students, faculty and staff.
  • Connect with others.

Most of all, we want to hear more from college students—you! What resources, tools or information do you need to address mental health issues at your local college communities? How can NAMI help? Please feel free to email me at danac@nami.org with suggestions.

Through my own life and my years working with young adults, I have seen firsthand how just one meaningful connection can really change the course of someone’s life. Working together, we can make these connections for every young adult in need. Let’s get started!




Mrs. Andi Anxiety said...

Dana, thank you for sharing this and for all the hard work you do! I have been a college student for just about 10 years. Bipolar disorder has made the experience tremendously difficult and I often find I can't do many of the things other students can (regular attendance, normal course loads, campus activities). I don't feel comfortable providing my instructors with doctor's notes because they will reveal the nature of my issue. I'd rather be seen as lazy. I attend a major university and it's unfortunate we don't have a group on campus. While some support is available, its minimal and students are referred to doctors in the area. It does nothing to address the stigma and struggles of a student with mental illness. I know I'm not alone. Thank you for sharing your success story. Greater visibility of our struggles is not only empowering in its own right, but paves the way for stigma reduction and maybe better support for students like us.

Hchase said...

Great for you to speak out! I go to U of A too and deal with a multitude of issues which have been difficult. I go to U of A south because U of A campus makes me so anxious, and right now I am only taking one class in person because of my anxiety. Thanks for speaking up.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I would be interested in finding out what Colleges have active NAMI groups for College students ...

Barbara said...

Outstanding article. I hope affiliates in college and university communities will make the most of this critical resource.
Barb Maier
NAMI Grand Strand

Chelsea S. said...

I actually wrote an article for the college I attended about attending college with a mental illness. I live with bipolar disorder and wanted to spread the word and help fight stigma. I know how difficult it is to try to keep on trucking in school when life happens and your stuck in a rutt with your mental illness.

If anyone is interested in reading it, you can find it here:

ocdtalk said...

So glad to read NAMI is making its way more and more on to college campuses. My son developed severe OCD as a college freshman, and a NAMI group would have been invaluable at this time. We all need to be more open about mental health issues, as so many students won't seek help because of the stigma attached to mental illness. The more we talk, the more we'll see how common these issues are, and people will stop feeling so isolated and alone. Keep upi the good work!

Jenni said...

Nami blog is really great. The chance of mental illness in students are increasing day by day. Some proper treatment are very much required for it.