Psychological Troubles on the Rise

New survey of counseling center directors reveals major concerns about suicides and policies to prevent them.
March 29, 2006

The problem many colleges are facing in providing help to students with severe psychological problems is getting worse, according to findings from the 2005 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors. And a majority of counseling directors say that college administrators have a long way to go in improving the situation.

Over 90 percent of directors reported an increase in the last year in the number of students with severe psychological problems and who are entering college already on psychiatric medication, according to the survey, which is published by the International Association of Counseling Services. That number is up from 85.8 percent in 2004.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said that the increase in students with more serious problems has become a growing concern for administrators.

Still, less than half of directors reported that their institutions provide adequate campus-wide public education to prevent suicide, related programs for parents and student support networks, and programs for after a suicide takes place. Directors who participated in the study said that there were a total of 154 suicides on their campuses in the past year.  That number was 137 in 2003-4. Both figures are only a fraction of the suicides that took place because only 366 centers participated in the survey in 2005, while 339 participated in 2004.

The author of the report, Robert P. Gallagher, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, says that this year’s survey asked more questions about suicide, since there are many lawsuits ongoing nationwide involving students who’ve killed themselves on campus -- and disputes over who’s to blame.

“The majority of those who do commit suicide on campus have never sought out counseling,” says Gallagher. “Campuses need to do more to reach out to students and help them not be fearful.”

Gallagher believes that when administrators institute policies that somehow punish students for seeking help, getting help becomes stigmatized. For the 2006 survey, the researcher said he plans to ask counseling center directors whether they believe administrators should be involved in the treatment process of students.



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