Changing the Mental Health Climate on College Campuses Improves Student Outcomes and Benefits Society
Apr 1, 2016
Published in: Psychiatric Services, 2016
Posted on RAND.org on April 21, 2016
OBJECTIVE: Unmet need for mental health treatment among college students is a significant public health issue. Despite having access to campus mental health providers and insurance to cover services, many college students do not receive necessary services. This study examined factors influencing college students' use of mental health services. METHODS: Online survey data for 33,943 students and 14,018 staff and faculty at 39 college campuses in California were analyzed by using logistic regressions examining the association between students' use of mental health services and student characteristics, campus environment, and the presence of a formal network of campus mental health clinics. RESULTS: Nineteen percent of students reported current serious psychological distress in the past 30 days, and 11% reported significant mental health–related academic impairment in the past year. Twenty percent reported using mental health services while at their current college, 10% by using campus services and 10% off-campus services. Students on campuses with a formal network of mental health clinics were more likely than students at community colleges to receive mental health services (odds ratio [OR] range=1.68–1.69), particularly campus services (OR=3.47–5.72). Students on campuses that are supportive of mental health issues were more likely to receive mental health services (OR=1.22), particularly on campus (OR=1.65). Students with active (versus low) coping skills were consistently more likely to use mental health services. CONCLUSIONS: Establishing more campus mental health clinics, fostering supportive campus environments, and increasing students' coping skills may reduce unmet need for mental health services among college students.
Colleges and universities should consider the following to improve student access to mental health services: establish working relationships with providers in the community surrounding campus, help students develop strong coping skills to deal with stress, and reach out in a culturally sensitive manner to racial and ethnic minorities to address service use disparities.