American universities are failing students facing mental health crises

This Thanksgiving, college students across the country are taking a temporary break from classes to celebrate at home with family and friends. However, for students experiencing suicidal thoughts and other serious mental health issues, some may be asked not to return to campus.

Colleges across America have largely abandoned their COVID-19 restrictions, but the pressures facing students today remain extraordinarily high. Called a “crisis,” the American Psychological Association estimates that more than 60 percent of college students are currently dealing with one or more mental health problems.

Congress has done little to provide funding to understand the pressures and challenges students face. And many universities do not provide students with the support they need to be healthy and resilient.

In 2019, students attending outstanding schools across the country were added to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM) list of “at-risk” groups. The reason: The pressure to compete at higher academic levels has led to higher statistics of behavioral and mental health issues. Others on NASEM’s list at risk include children in poverty, foster care and those with incarcerated parents.

That was before the pandemic. Since then, the students have endured severe challenges, including social isolation and distance learning, which have disrupted their social and academic development. Campus life for college students may, on the surface, seem to be returning to normal, but for many, the lingering effects of COVID-19 are still very raw and very real.

Statistics published by the University of Michigan ranked suicide as the second leading cause of death for college students nationwide. Approximately 1,100 suicides occur on college campuses each year. Roughly 40 percent of university students have either “thought it out or thought it out.” These numbers place increasing pressure – and higher expectations – on universities to meet the mental health care needs of their students.

Schools know this is a problem. Six consecutive American Council on Education surveys dating back to the start of the pandemic found that students’ mental health was a “pressing issue.” Last year, more than 70 percent of university presidents cited this as their top concern.

However, some of the country’s top universities seem to be failing students who need mental health services. A recent Washington Post revelation revealed that suicidal students at Yale are “under pressure to quit.” Those seeking re-application must re-apply and waive their right to privacy by certifying that they, at their own expense, received appropriate mental health care during their off-campus stay as a condition of being allowed to return to campus.

The problem is not specific to Yale. Before the pandemic, the Ruderman Family Foundation found problems at a number of Ivy League universities regarding forced furlough policies for students with mental illness. Everyone earned a grade of D+ or less.

These policies betray students who seek care. These policies prioritize legal protection over the well-being of students. Instead of expanding services and prioritizing mental health, some schools are exacerbating the problem by forcing students who apply to leave their walls.

Congress this year increased mental health support for young people but kept grant funding for higher education at $6.5 million. To foster the power of young Americans, we need to destigmatize, not punish, care-seeking behavior. We also need a greater commitment from our elected leaders to fund objective, accessible programs to address mental health awareness and prevention.

And that support must extend beyond the campus. Young people everywhere have suffered from COVID-19 and many need help – including in college And the Those for whom college is not an option.

At a time when student need for university mental health services is at an all-time high, schools are falling far behind. College presidents overwhelmingly agree that mental health is the number one issue facing campuses. They – and Congress – need to step up their efforts and do more to be part of the solution.

Lyndon Haviland, d.

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