Students & Mental Illness

Students & Mental Illness

Although the incidence of mental illness on college campuses is rising, a new survey of 2,785 college students indicates that more than half of students with significant symptoms of anxiety or depression do not seek help.

This is despite the fact that resources are available at no cost on campus, says SPH Assistant Professor Daniel Eisenberg, who conducted the Web-based survey in collaboration with doctoral students Ezra Golberstein, Sarah Gollust, and Jennifer Hefner.

At the University of Michigan, where the study occurred, students have access to free mental health and counseling services. Yet among those with significant symptoms of depressive or anxiety disorders, anywhere from 37 to 84 percent didn’t seek treatment, depending on the disorder. Seventy-two percent of students with positive screens for major depression did report that they needed help for their mental health. Overall, about ten percent of students surveyed said they received therapy, and the same percentage said they took some type of psychotropic drug.

“We can’t assume that reducing financial barriers is enough,” Eisenberg said. The study found that one of the biggest predictors of whether a student sought help was socioeconomic background—students who reported growing up in poor families were almost twice as likely not to seek help. Poor students were also much more prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.

Other factors associated with not seeking treatment included lack of perceived need, being unaware of services or insurance coverage, skepticism about effectiveness, or being Asian or Pacific Islander. Women were more likely to report needing treatment and seeking it, he said. He and his research team launched a second study this fall, looking at the same issues at 13 universities nationwide. —Laura Bailey

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