Mental disorders, from anxiety and depression to dependency on alcohol and opioids, are an increasing challenge for American society. Today’s college students face a mental health epidemic as they leave home for the first time at an age of life common for the onset of mental illness. Due to concerns about reputation, liability, cost, and other factors, college administrations have broadly failed to meet the growing crisis with a scaled response.
Student advocates play a critical role in improving mental health policies and practices. On the occasion of the 4th Annual Ivy League Mental Health Conference hosted by Cornell University April 26-28, The Sophie Fund presents A Brief Guide to Student Mental Health Advocacy. The guide highlights useful facts and figures, key advocacy goals, resources on student rights, and campus mental health best practices.
Some statistics underlining the urgency of supporting student mental health:
- 43.8 million American adults—18.5 percent of the population—are experiencing mental illness in a given year, and 75 percent of mental illness cases begin by age 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- 46.8 percent of college students surveyed reported that academics have been “traumatic or very difficult to handle,” and 39.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” according to the 2017 National College Health Assessment; 12.1 percent seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and 1.9 percent had attempted suicide.
- 35.8 percent of surveyed college students seeking counseling in the 2017-18 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide” (up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year), according to Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2018 Annual Report; 10.3 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.
- 52 percent of students seeking counseling presented with “severe” psychological problems, up from 16 percent in 2000 and 44 percent in 2010, according to the 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers.
- In a campus-specific study, Cornell University’s 2017 Perceptions of Undergraduate Life and Student Experiences (PULSE) Survey of 5,001 undergraduates reported that 71.6 percent of respondents often or very often felt “overwhelmed,” and 42.9 percent said that they had been unable to function academically for at least a week on one or more occasions due to depression, stress, or anxiety. Nearly 10 percent of respondents reported being unable to function during a week-long period on five or more occasions. Nine percent of the respondents—about 450 students—reported “having seriously considered suicide at least once during the last year,” and about 85 students reported having actually attempted suicide at least once in the last year.
- 13.5 percent of female seniors participating in the Association of American Universities 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct reported being raped (“experiencing nonconsensual penetration involving physical force or incapacitation”) since enrolling in college; only 37.4 percent of undergraduate female students felt it was very likely or extremely likely that campus officials would take action against perpetrators of sexual assault or sexual misconduct.