Colleges struggle to meet demands for mental health services

(WWBT) - It's being called a crisis on campus - colleges and universities struggling to meet the growing demand for mental health services for their students.

It's such a big problem that the American College Health Association is holding a national symposium on the issue next month in Washington, D.C.

College senior Kaitlin Reeves, who struggles with anxiety and depression, says when things get bad, she knows there's help close by at the mental health center at her school.

"It made me feel more comfortable knowing they were always on campus and helping other students like myself," said Reeves.

One study finds a 30 percent increase of students requesting services in a five-year period for things like anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide prevention.

Locally, VCU is seeing an uptick in appointments.

The number of students who sought counseling in the last three academic years has increased by 17 percent.

The demand is so great at colleges around the country the American College Health Association (ACHA) says "it could be outpacing our nations' universities' capabilities to deliver the care students need."

"There could be too few staff on campus to really address the needs. If there's fewer financial resources, it may impact programming, hiring and also any kind of outreach initiatives," said Bryant Ford with the ACHA.

That can lead to long wait times for appointments or even unavailability for services, but some institutions are looking to change that. They're building new mental health centers and are beefing up existing programs by adding around-the-clock mental health hotlines.

VCU has counselors on call after hours, and many schools are adding screenings and workshops.

"Workshops can include anxiety reduction workshops or mood related concerns to help them manage things like depression," said Ford.

Advocates hope these new centers and programs will give students more options on campus, help with early intervention and continue to de-stigmatize mental health issues. Kaitlin says she's taking advantage of what's being offered.

"I was tired of feeling the way that I did - still do. But counseling has helped significantly," she said.

Some nonprofits are lending a hand.

One group, called Screening For Mental Health, is rolling out mental health screening kiosks to colleges around the country.

The idea is to offer easily accessible, anonymous online screenings.

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