Seeking help to address mental and emotional issues is no longer as stigmatized as it was in the past, leading many college students to seek help for depression and anxiety at their college or university counseling centers. According to a report in Vice, the utilization rates for on-campus counseling increased by 38.4% in the five-year period from 2010 to 2015. While the utilization rates have increased, most universities and colleges have not had a corresponding increase in their counseling staff. This has resulted in serious backlogs in university counseling centers across the nation with waits as long as five to six weeks for an initial appointment.
Problems with long waiting times for counseling appointments
There are several problems with long waiting times for counseling services on college and university campuses. The long waiting times come amidst an alarming increase in the number of deaths from suicide among teens and young adults. According to the Washington Post, a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that suicides among people ages 10 to 24 increased by 56% between 2007 and 2017. When young people are forced to wait for counseling appointments, they are less likely to attend when the appointment dates arrive. Even if they do, their conditions may worsen during the intervening time, leading to falling grades, poorer outcomes, hospitalizations, and suicide attempts.
Addressing the problem
Universities and colleges are trying several different approaches to craft solutions for mental and emotional problems among students. Adding additional staff may not be feasible in states that have focused on cutting costs instead of improving mental health services for students. Depression in college students is a real concern that needs to be addressed. People who are struggling with depression may hesitate to reach out for help in the first place. When they are then told to wait, their symptoms may grow much more severe. Some college counseling centers have reacted by getting rid of the triage step and scheduling students who ask for help for initial appointments. Others have taken a hybrid approach to divide cases between immediate needs and others.
Text messaging as a solution to long waiting times
Two-way text messaging for counseling services can help to bridge the gap when students reach out for mental health help. While virtual counseling is not a completely new idea, it could be better utilized in the college campus environment. Adding text messaging to a college’s helpline or hotline can allow university counseling centers to take advantage of the fact that more young people than ever are texting. Two-way text messaging also allows users to remain anonymous and to ask questions privately. Text messaging services can provide a way for colleges to connect with college students at the moment that they are struggling the most so that their mental health needs can be addressed promptly.
Depression in college students is a serious concern that should be properly handled. By establishing systems that allow immediate contact, universities and colleges can help students who are struggling to get the help that they need before their symptoms worsen.