Iowa college staffers are voicing concerns about the rising number of students in recent years who are seeking help for mental health issues while attending Iowa colleges and universities. They understand that academic success is greatly affected by good physical and good mental health and want to encourage development of mental health programs and services that are “clearly necessary and should be led with meaningful input by the people with the most at stake [the students].”
Said UI Counseling Service Director, Barry Schreier, “Demand for mental health services at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University has been increasing [at a rate of] about 10 percent each year. The University of Northern Iowa has seen a yearly 13 percent increase in demand for mental health services.” Further, the severity of reported mental ill health conditions is worsening.
Service needs have far outpaced available resources. On campus, “it is difficult for students to get the help they need when they most need it.” On campus – where many students live and work as well as learn. Services need to meet them where they are.
Shreier reports that neither of Iowa’s three public universities has an adequately staffed mental health counseling center. The recommended staff-to-student ratio for on-campus mental health service centers is one staff member per every 1,500 students. At the University of Iowa, the ratio is one staff member per 2,750 students (the lowest of all Big Ten schools). A cross-sectional study could likely explain that this discrepancy has the makings of a mental ill health epidemic.
The Big Ten (which now has 14 member schools) has 5.7 million alumni and nearly 580,000 current students. Based on the recommended staff-to-student ratio, there should be no less than 387 mental health service workers throughout the organization – and this is clearly a minute number compared to the over half a million students who could potentially be in need of mental health services on any given day.
Helping schools obtain and retain funding for adequate mental health counseling and support centers should be a benefit of being part of the Big Ten – which is all about maintaining a balance between academics and athletics. There is no balance without positive mental health.
Mental health is critical for high performance. If students have unstable mental health, $Billion grossing athletic or academic programs will see a decline. Mental health service funding should be as high or higher a priority as ticket sales.
For schools looking to expand mental health services who do not know where to begin, Purdue University has a Counseling and Psychological Services center (CAPS) and model procedure for mental health emergencies. Penn State seniors also have a novel idea for mental health fundraising.
There is a national effort to recruit students, especially females and minorities to the STEM careers of science, technology, engineering, and math. There should be a STEM / American Psychological Association (APA) partnership effort to recognize the specific need for mental health professionals.
College campuses have become breeding grounds for stress, anxiety, and pressures that are affecting all college students, not only those who had diagnosed conditions before entering college.
There is a “widening gap between student mental health needs and campus resources here in Iowa.” Bridging that gap is a matter of health and safety for everyone on campus. The conversation needs to get serious about preserving students’ and administrators’ and staffers’ mental health; and it needs to start now.
It should be noted that this conversation could not be rounded without the valued input of the students and others who are themselves dealing with mental health issues, whether they are suffering symptoms or providing services to alleviate ills.
Recommendations include “embedding counselors in high-risk department and student populations, online suicide prevention training for students, establishing peer supports,” and adequately staffing all counseling centers at schools across the nation at every level.
Examiner reported Wednesday that Flint (where the water crisis is still ongoing) does not even have a grocery store where parents can seek good nutrition for their children – which has a huge impact on cognitive development.
No single Flint Elementary School has so much as a dedicated, on-site, School Nurse. You can probably guess how many mental health workers are on staff for each school (try 0 first). However, there is a growing mental health service effort at the college level (video).
To be fair, Teachers and administrators and the staffers who spurred this op-ed do care about students – whole students – that includes all of their needs and issues and health concerns and the things that matter to them. Flint and Iowa schools and some other schools around the nation cannot provide proper mental health care services because they are greatly underfunded.
The staffers conclude, “The increasing need for mental health resources on campus is part of a national trend. There is no easy solution. Addressing student mental health needs not only will require more resources, but also will take creative approaches tailored to our specific student populations.”
Big Ten Schools are leaders in the collegiate community and looked up to by youths aspiring to their heights. The Big 10 (or the remaining Big Thirteen) can follow Iowa’s lead to start the conversation and start working to establish the precedent that no school should be forced to sidestep mental health care.