Getting a handle on how mental health issues disrupt the lives of college students is no easy task. But a new survey, College Students Speak, conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) went right to the students living with mental health conditions to find out if schools were meeting their needs and what improvements could benefit their college learning experience. What NAMI found is a bit disconcerting: 64 percent of the college students with mental health conditions left school because of a mental health-related condition. These “dramatic” numbers “point to a ‘shadow’ mental health crisis that colleges and universities need to address,” said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick in a release. “Mental illness can be treated and successfully managed, but too many students are forced to abandon their promise and talent when they confront mental health issues in their college careers.” According to the survey, the primary diagnoses of the student survey respondents are depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Asked what might have helped them stay in school, respondents indicated campus-based accommodations and mental health services. But the same students said that they were not aware of or didn’t access these types of support when they were in college. Some 45 percent of those who stopped attending college because of mental health-related reasons did not receive accommodations. Fifty percent did not access mental health support and services.
What Might Help Students Stay in School
Seven specific areas of accommodations and support were identified by students as being most important in helping them to stay in school. These include:
- Receiving accommodations – such as tutoring, lower course loads, books on tape, and help with communicating their needs to professors or online classes.
- Accessing mental health services and supports on campus – to help them address mental health issues impacting their academic performance.
- Earlier connection with mental health providers.
- Availability of peer-run support groups.
- Assistance with medical bills and transportation.
- Managing medication side effects.
- Getting support from family and friends.
A majority of the students, 79 percent, stressed the importance of offering mental health training for faculty and staff and ranked it as the “most important awareness activity” colleges can provide. Other mental health activities ranked important include:
- Suicide prevention activities – 73%
- Student organizations or peer-run groups – 62%
- Mental health information during orientation – 61%
- Peer-to-peer support and mentoring – 61%
- Health fairs – 60%
New NAMI Support Initiative
NAMI is launching a major initiative, NAMI on Campus to provide information and support to students living with mental health conditions and to empower them to take action on their college campuses. The NAMI on Campus website helps students learn about the issue of college students and mental health, how they can get involved and raise awareness of mental health on their campus, check out resources and materials for students, faculty and staff on mental health, and how to stay connected on mental health issues.