College students are in a mental health crisis

Access to mental health services is still the main obstacle to helping students dealing with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Colleges all over the country are severely understaffed and lacking resources.

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A new study by the Healthy Minds Network found that the mental health of college students has been steadily declining over the eight years they collected data, between 2013 and 2021.

A new study by the Healthy Minds Network found that the mental health of college students has been steadily declining over the eight years they collected data, between 2013 and 2021.

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(Warning: This article contains information about suicide. If you or a loved one is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.)

In this month’s Better Homes and Gardens, readers were treated to a lovely interview with British singer and actor Harry Styles — shot neither at his home nor garden, but nevertheless very revealing.

In it, the 28-year-old admitted he’d set up his first therapy session five years ago, after dealing with mental health obstacles for years as a teen idol and singing sensation with One Direction. He’d avoided it for a long time.

“I thought it meant that you were broken. I wanted to be the one who could say I didn’t need it.”

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The admission is a welcome one, as young people face mental health challenges in staggering proportions. As more and more young celebrities like Naomi Osaka, Camila Cabello, Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner tell their stories, more and more young people will hopefully see it’s okay to not be okay. (While no longer a “young person” nor a celebrity, I wrote about my own struggles last year.)

But had any of these people been at a U.S. college while they were at their lowest mentally, they might not have gotten the help they so desperately needed. That’s because universities are failing our students when it comes to mental health.

A new study by the Healthy Minds Network found that the mental health of college students has been steadily declining over the eight years they collected data, with a whopping 135% increase in depression and 110% increase in anxiety from 2013 to 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a frightening rise in suicidal ideation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 25.5% — a quarter — of 18- to 24-year-olds more likely to report they’d seriously considered suicide.

As of 2018, even before the pandemic, suicide was the second most common cause of death among college students.

This school year alone, there’s been a rash of awful news.

Just last week, Arlana Miller, a 19-year-old cheerleader at Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana, posted a haunting suicide note on Instagram and took her life.

In April, James Madison University star softball player Lauren Bernett died by suicide at age 20, and California Polytechnic State University student Zach Blanchard died by suicide at age 21.

Katie Meyer, team captain and star goalie for Stanford University’s women’s soccer team, took her own life in March. In a few months, she would have graduated.

At least five NCAA athletes died by suicide in less than two months. This academic year, at least four students at St. Louis University and Washington University died by suicide.

Those are just a few of the horrific headlines.

There’s a term called suicide contagion, a phenomenon that’s been difficult to manage especially inside colleges, where campuses are communities and news of a suicide can sometimes lead to others.

I remember back in 2010, at my alma mater, Cornell University, there were six student suicides in six months.

In the wake of COVID-19, many colleges are attempting to make mental health awareness a more prominent part of student life.

But access to mental health services is still the main obstacle. Colleges all over the country are severely understaffed and lacking resources.

In some cases, students wait months for care, often giving up. In other cases, a staff of 10 mental health specialists has to service thousands of students each year. Where private care is available, many do not take insurance.

Making matters worse, colleges all over the country are failing to set and adhere to appropriate protocols for students in need.

According to public records, in some cases professors ignored required accommodations for students with certified special needs, schools’ leave-of-absence policies were found to be discriminatory or they did not provide counseling for sexual assault victims.

Unsurprisingly, Congress has failed too.

In 2016, the House introduced the Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act, which would have awarded grants to colleges to improve mental health services and require the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a College Campus Task Force.

In 2021, the Senate introduced the Higher Education Mental Health Act, which also would have established a commission to better study and serve students’ mental health needs.

In 2022, the House introduced a Student Mental Health Rights Act, which would solidify colleges’ legal obligations to students.

None of these bills have passed.

As the mental health of our college students has worsened, access to on-campus services has in many cases become harder to get. This is a travesty, and a sadly preventable one. Making mental health services readily available saves lives. And with every new suicide, the issue becomes more urgent.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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