As more stressed students consider dropping out, the U.S. Surgeon General is urging college leaders to step up support

Mental health is now one of the top reasons many college students are considering dropping out, according to a recent report by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation that advocates for equity in higher education.

On Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called on college administrators to hire more counselors and create programs where students can help each other deal with mental health issues at a talk hosted by the American Council on Education in Washington. health struggles. He also stressed the importance of collecting data to see which students on campus are using mental health resources.

One of the goals of the Mental Health Roundtable was to destigmatize talking openly about anxiety, depression and other mental health issues and to get political leaders to spend more money on colleges’ efforts to provide counseling services to students.

“We have a really powerful and unique opportunity right now to talk to the country about mental health and take action on mental health in a way that we haven’t had in decades,” Murthy said.

In addition to Murthy, the event featured ACE President Ted Mitchell; Hollie M. Chessman, Council Research Director; Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina; and Zainab Okolo, Strategy Officer, Lumina.

Students struggled with mental health before the pandemic, but those issues escalated after spending nearly a year in isolation and away from the typical support offered by universities. Now, many of those students are seriously considering dropping out of college because they can’t cope with stress and anxiety, mental health advocates say. More than 1.3 million students have dropped out of college since the pandemic began.

According to a Gallup-Lumina report released in April, more than three-quarters of undergraduate students who have considered dropping out in the past six months cite emotional distress as a reason. This is a 34 percent increase from the previous 2020 report.

We tend to fund things in crisis mode rather than providing the sustained funding that we need.

At the start of 2021, three-quarters of undergraduate students and two-thirds of college-bound adults had considered taking a break from college due to emotional stress, according to the report.

According to ACE, more than 70 percent of college presidents have consistently identified mental health as a top concern for their students over the past 18 months. This number increased from 41 percent in April 2020. Between 2015 and 2020, the percentage of students experiencing anxiety increased by 10 percent, the percentage of students with depression increased by 12 percent, and the percentage of students with suicidal thoughts increased. More than 3 percent, according to ACE.

College affordability was another factor driving students to drop out, the Gallup-Lumina report said.

In May, the U.S. Department of Education strongly encouraged colleges to use funds from the Higher Education Emergency Fund to support the mental health of students, faculty and staff. The department also extended the time until June 30, 2023, for colleges to spend their emergency grants.

While colleges have been able to use some of that funding to support student counseling services, Murthy said adding money one time isn’t sustainable.

“We tend to fund things in crisis mode rather than provide the sustained funding that we need,” he said. “Periodic injections of support are important, but we need to continue this investment for the long term.”

Murthy also discussed the lasting effects of trauma, from physical to emotional abuse, and how it can play out in the classroom.

“You could be sitting next to someone in chemistry class who looks like you’re from a similar background, but maybe they’ve been through some serious experiences in the past,” he said. “It can affect how they interact with you.”

He also asked the faculty and student services advocates in attendance to make sure they take care of themselves by supporting students.

“I think a lot of people in this room have sacrificed so much for the communities that you want to serve that it can even be at personal cost,” Murthy said.

Panelists emphasized the need to reach students of color, low-income students, and college athletes, who often face disproportionate mental health issues.

Many college students do not learn they have a mental health condition until they are diagnosed in college and first access counseling services.

Bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression are the top three mental illnesses students are diagnosed with in college, says Okolo, who has been a therapist for 12 years.

Identifying mental illness and getting help can be difficult, she said.

He emphasized the importance of ensuring that counseling centers are diverse, culturally sensitive and bilingual.

“We have to recognize that when students come to our campus to engage and expand their minds, that anything that has to do with the mind and anything that challenges them has to be something that we prioritize,” Okolo said.

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