Surveys among college students throughout Missouri show Truman State students are more likely to self-injure and suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts than other collegians in the state.
According to the 2013 Missouri College Health and Behavior Survey, 19.1 percent of Truman students responding to the survey experienced a depressive episode, compared to 17.6 percent of other Missouri student responders. Truman students also commit self-injury more often than other survey respondents at nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.
The survey shows 19 percent of Truman students experienced suicidal thoughts last year compared to 13.6 percent of other Missouri students, and 1.5 percent of Truman students reported attempting suicide compared to 0.6 percent of other Missouri collegians.
An increase of students in need
Brenda Higgins, Truman’s Student Health Center Director, says one reason the rates of depression and suicidal behavior of college students throughout the country are rising is because of changes made to the college admissions system by the Americans with Disabilities Act. She says students with mental health issues can contain them in lower levels of education with ADA accommodations, but the increased stress of college can lead to a reemergence of symptoms.
Higgins says another reason the rates of mental illness are rising is some mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, first appear during the college years. However, she says the majority of Truman students who have mental illnesses experienced them before they enrolled.
Higgins says the Health Center and University Counseling Services do not have access to students’ previous medical records, which means they cannot determine if a student has a history of mental illness unless the student discloses that information voluntarily. Higgins says the campus care providers cannot communicate with each other about a specific patient if they do not sign a release form, but says students are highly encouraged to do so. She says a combination of counseling and medication often is the best strategy to combat mental health issues.
Stigmatized students blame themselves
Higgins says the Counseling Center offers “Question, Persuade, Refer” training to faculty and students who aren’t mental health professionals. She says QPR training allows trained practitioners to properly care for others dealing with mental crises until they can be referred to a mental health professional. However, she says mental illness still is stigmatized, which makes many students hesitant to seek help.
“For some people, there’s a sense of failure if they have to come get help,” Higgins says. “There’s a feeling of ‘I should be able to do this myself. Why can’t I do this myself?’”
Struggling to keep up
Hamilton says while UCS tries to be as publicly visible as possible, the department struggles with keeping pace with the current demand of students seeking counseling.
“We have trouble keeping up with services for individuals who are already coming in,” Hamilton says. “If we know we are not going to keep up with the demand, how much promotion should we be doing?”
He says UCS has been able to keep up with the current demand of students seeking counseling, but it might implement a waiting list for students seeking counseling if the demand grows too high. He says many universities use this policy to handle excess demand without hiring another counselor. He also says the waiting lists at larger universities can leave students waiting weeks to get their first appointment.
“With the way the economy is going right now, staff sizes are not increasing,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton says UCS could refer students to off-campus resources if the demand grows too high. He says most local providers offer discounts to students.