The American Psychological Association calls the state of mental health on college campuses a growing crisis. A nationwide survey in 2010 said that 44 percent students seeking help on campus had severe psychological problems, a sharp increase from 16 percent in 2000¹ .
Students with mental illness – depression, anxiety, trauma or other conditions – may struggle to succeed in college. And they may affect others, including classmates, roommates, faculty and staff with potentially disruptive and even dangerous behavior.
Adequate mental health services are essential to the students’ success and to a healthier campus life. That’s why the National Mental Health Innovation Center (NMHIC) is working with leaders from all four campuses of the University of Colorado on approaches to fill gaps in student care and broaden understanding and awareness of mental illness.
It is a complicated challenge. There are about 60,000 enrolled students across the campuses – the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Undergraduate and graduate, they are from all 50 states and around the world. The student body is diverse and large, and every student is unique.
The NMHIC offices are located on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, and it’s there that we are piloting a campus mental health campaign on multiple fronts in academic year 2017/18:
- Virtual reality demos open to all on campus, hosted by NMHIC, to show the power of VR in mental healthcare
- A student-led mental health panel, featuring personal stories to increase understanding and address stigma
- A faculty-led mental health panel, also featuring personal stories to increase understanding and address stigma
- A campus “one-read” of the bestseller “An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Redfield Jamison. This event is to encourage all Anschutz students, faculty and staff to read and discuss the personal testimony of bipolar illness by the Johns Hopkins University professor of Psychiatry.
This campaign is in conjunction with the Interprofessional Education (IPE) programs on campus, which connect students across professional schools in learning and teamwork challenges.
NMHIC also is working with the CU campuses on another initiative: engaging The JED Foundation, which is unique in its national work to prevent student suicide and promote mental health.
Students have always heard that “real-life” is what happens after graduation. But this is mental health in the real world. With a commitment to campus-wide mental wellness, CU could forge a path that other universities can follow.
¹National Survey of Counseling Center Directors