A disturbing trend, the focus of numerous scientific studies in recent years, is appearing: College students are increasingly reporting mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation.
It's a difficult time to be a college student. In addition to the general stress of homework and exams, many students today also have families or jobs. Most will leave campus with debt. And the issues that plagued students while they were in high school — their parents' divorce, for example, or combating bullies on social media — don't suddenly disappear once they arrive on a college campus.
Thankfully, our regional institutions, including Crowder College and Missouri Southern State University, are already doing everything right. They're prioritizing their students' mental health needs, offering clinical services in affordable settings right on their campuses and trying to be proactive in advertising those services and ensuring that students know their options if they need help.
Gone are the days when college officials could content themselves only with academics. Crowder College President Glenn Coltharp gets it exactly right in today's Page 1 story: In order to serve the "total student," a college must concern itself with all aspects of a student's life to help him or her reach graduation day. If that means offering counseling services so that a student can better manage his anxiety in order to pass his math class, then consider it done.
We know money talks, so let's look at the issue from another angle — a financial one. It's actually a smart investment for colleges and universities to help students with their mental health. The American Council on Education lays out an example in a report earlier this year:
"Imagine a program that would provide mental health care for 500 more depressed students in a year; this could mean hiring a handful of new clinicians at a counseling center. The cost to provide counseling to these students would be no more than $500,000 ($1,000 is a generous estimate of treatment cost per student).
"Based on economic research, we know that such a program would yield an estimated $1 million in additional tuition revenue for the institution (by averting student dropouts) and over $2 million in lifetime economic productivity for the students (by avoiding reductions in future earnings)."
That would equate to a multimillion-dollar net gain for higher education and society at large. It makes dollars-and-cents sense from this viewpoint.
Higher education is already tackling the problem, so what can we do as a community? Let's support these programs; if current trends continue and more students require help, Crowder and Missouri Southern likely will need to hire more counselors.
We also should continue the hard work of breaking down barriers to affordable health care — which absolutely includes mental health care — and take away the stigma of having a mental health disorder. When we as a society are more comfortable talking about our mental health conditions and asking for help in managing them, we make it easier for our students to do the same.