“Seeking help is a sign of strength,” said Timothy Marchell, director of the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Cornell University. “It’s normal for many students to struggle, and they should know there are people on campus who can help.”
Almost every college and university has a campus counseling center to which students are supposed to be referred if a faculty member believes they are in a downward spiral academically or emotionally. Sometimes, for ongoing services, students will be referred to outside therapists.
And the incidence and potential for crises mounts annually. According to the National College Health Assessment, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of students suffering from depression — to 40.2 percent last year nationwide from 32.6 percent in 2013. Likewise, during that same period, there has been an increase in those thinking about suicide, to 11.5 percent from 8.1 percent, and those attempting suicide, to 1.7 percent from 1.3 percent, during the same period. About one student in 12 has a suicide plan.
For the seventh year in a row, college counseling centers report an increase in the number of students seeking treatment who represent “threat-to-self,” according to this year’s report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.
Many institutions of higher learning are struggling to keep up with the demand. For example, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services, which provided care for the 13 percent of Cornell University students experiencing debilitating depression, stress and anxiety in 2005-6, counseled 21 percent of the student population in 2016-17. They have also added 10 full-time employees, for a current total of 32 counselors to provide the needed services for 14,500 undergraduates and 7,000 graduate students, a better-than-average ratio.
The university has also created a “Caring Community” with a website that directs students to help, including emergency services, for all kinds of health-related issues.
One link under “Notice and Respond” directs anyone concerned about another student to potentially lifesaving information. It lists 13 signs of distress, from “falling behind and missing classes” to “impulsivity and unnecessary risk-taking” to “verbal or written threats of suicide, or expressions of hopelessness or a wish to die.” It also provides guidance on how to respond in a caring manner, noting that the only real risk is doing nothing.