Among students, mental health diagnosis and treatment are up, stigma is down

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Mental health diagnoses and treatment for college students increased dramatically between 2007 and 2017. More than a third of students reported a diagnosed condition in 2016-2017, according to research published online today in Psychiatric Services in Advance .

The comprehensive national study draws on 10 years of data from the Healthy Minds Study, an annual online survey involving more than 150,000 college students at 196 campuses across the United States. The study authors, led by Sarah Ketchen Lipson, Ph.D., EdM, with the Boston University School of Public Health, found that from 2007 to 2017:

  • Mental health diagnoses rose from 22% to 36%
  • Treatment increased from 19% to 34%, with similar patterns for therapy/counselling and medication use
  • Suicidal ideation increased from 6% to 11%
  • Mental health stigma has decreased

Perceived and personal stigma rates decreased over time, from 64% to 46% and from 11% to 6%, respectively. Perceived stigma was measured by agreement with the statement “most people think less of someone who has received mental health treatment” and personal stigma was measured by agreement with “I would think less of a person who has received mental health treatment”. Although the authors note that the decrease in stigma and the increase in mental health problems contribute to increased use of services, they did not address the reasons for these changes.

The most common place to receive services was on campus. Nearly 12% of students reported using services from their campus counseling center in 2016-2017, about 9% used other mental health services, and about 1% used emergency psychiatric services .

“The trends revealed in this study have strained counseling centers across the country, as many are under-resourced and operating at full capacity with waiting lists for much of the year,” the authors say. . They suggest that in addition to increasing capacity, increasing use of “preventive and digital mental health services, such as those delivered through mobile apps,” could help meet the need.

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Material provided by American Psychiatric Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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