Campuses face mental health crisis

Posted at 10:23 PM, Nov 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 23:23:55-04

It's been called a crisis on campus, a major uptick in the need for mental health services at universities.

The counseling services at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has grown so much it had to move to a new building. The center sees more than 5 percent of the entire student population each year, but the number of students who feel like they need help is likely even higher.

It's something we all grapple with every day.

"Multitasking is not only accepted within our society, but it's something that we value," said Paul Dupont, the director of University Counseling Services at UWM.

For college students, it can be especially daunting. UWM graduate student Lyndsey Lipson said she was overwhelmed as an undergrad.

"Taking tests, having to write huge papers, I had a lot of internship hours to complete and then I had relationship struggles," Lipson said.

"People say you shouldn't be working so much when you have such and such credits, but it's a little hard to especially when you're living on your own," said undergraduate Raven Williams.

Data shows do-everthing mentality is spiking anxiety and depression on college campuses.

"Close to 60 percent of students felt so anxious in the last 12 months they had a hard time functioning," said Dupont.

The Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University gathers information every year from 139 counseling centers. They say use of counseling centers on campuses went up by 30 percent from 2010 to 2015. The number of students seeking mental health treatment went up 50 percent from 2015 to 2016.

The demand is also rising locally.

Dupont said over the same five years, the number of students who went through counseling went up 35 percent.

He tells the I-Team the cost of higher education is one added stressor.

The Institute for College Access and Success studies the cost of college. It estimates the average debt for a 2016 graduate was more than 30,000 dollars.

"It puts an awful lot of pressure that they have to do well in college, perform well. Sometimes get involved in lots of things that are going to increase their chances of them getting a job," Dupont said.

And he believes our society is more stressed as a whole.

The American College Health Association said added stress "is outstripping our nations' universities' capabilities" to deliver the care students need.

Dupont said UWM has gotten creative to help meet increasing demand. They've trained hundreds of staff, students and teachers in suicide prevention. Counselors hold 20 minute consultation sessions around campus to help students who just need a little advice or guidance. And the Center schedules appointments by urgency to address highest need students first.

As accessible as the university makes services, students like Williams said counseling might help but she's been too busy to try it. 

"I mean if I did have the time, I probably would," Williams said.

But Lipson said getting the help is worth the time. 

"Regardless of the stigma, people really do need to seek services," she said.

Dupont believes helping young adults focus more on their efforts, rather than their outcomes could help relieve some stress. For younger children, Dupont said parents can help them incorporate relaxation and fun into their lives by playing without a focus on improving any skill or learning.

The American College Health Association is holding a national symposium on the growing demand for mental health services Nov. 13th.