Campus poll: UI students not familiar with on-campus mental health services

BY KRISTEN EAST | MARCH 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite increased outreach efforts, roughly 42 percent of University of Iowa students don’t know how accessible on-campus mental-health services are, and many say that’s because they’ve never considered utilizing those resources.

These findings are based on a recent scientific poll of 676 UI students, conducted Feb. 26-March 6 by UI students in the Advanced Reporting and Writing: Polling Literacy and Public Affairs journalism course in collaboration with iMediaEthics.org. The poll’s response rate was 23.9 percent, with a 3.77 percent margin of error (see “How It Was Done”).

The poll focused on campus safety but also asked respondents about mental health services and gun control.

Although the plurality in the poll didn’t know how accessible campus mental-health services are, approximately one-fourth said access was “somewhat good,” while 17 percent said it was “very good.”

UI graduate student Tyler Goss said if he ever needed help, he wouldn’t know how or where to access mental-health services on campus.

“… I know it exists, but I have never had to use it, so I don’t know where it is or how I would access it,” he said. “Simply knowing it exists is beneficial for students like me, because if I would need that service, I could find it. However, knowing the service is available is not the same as knowing how to access the service.”

A variety of mental-health services and resources are available to students. A few listed on the UI’s website include UI Hospitals and Clinics Counseling, the Johnson County Crisis Center, the United Way of Johnson County, Hillcrest Family Services, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, among others.

According to the University Counseling Service’s 2012 annual report, outreach programs increased from 442 in the 2009-10 school year to 835 in 2011-12. Roughly 6 to 7 percent of the student body utilize resources provided by the University Counseling Service, Director Sam Cochran said.

Several mental-health officials at the UI said they thought a more individualized rating of services would be beneficial but agreed that there’s always room for improvement.

“I know that many students don’t find us until they need us; which seems appropriate,” Cochran said. “We need to continue our work to make students aware of our services and how to access them.”

Beau Pinkham, the Crisis Center’s crisis-intervention coordinator, said programs such as the Crisis Center’s 24-hour crisis line provide students with needed accessibility.

“Students have access, of course,” he said. “It’s whether it’s well-known or not that gets to the heart of the matter.”

Mass shootings that have taken place in the United States over the past few years have continued to open up a national discussion about mental-health services. The mental-health debate heightened after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were shot and killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

The poll found that 42 percent of students strongly favor proposed laws that would make it illegal to sell or buy high-capacity ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets. Additionally, 36 percent said they strongly favor proposals to make it illegal to sell or buy semiautomatic firearms.

Joseph Fraioli, a third-year law student who once spoke at a Congressional briefing about student mental health on college campuses, said more needs to be done to alter the way society perceives mental illness.

“There is always a trick conversation that occurs when we discuss mental illness in connection with violence like, for example mass shootings,” he said. “The honest truth is that the vast majority of people suffering from mental illness are no more violent than anyone else.”

Fraioli said he would not feel safer if access to mental-health services were improved because he doesn’t believe mental illness is something that’s dangerous.

“… I just don’t believe that mental illness is to blame,” he said. “Instead of using it as a scapegoat, we should be critically examining the reasons that those who do act violently were never treated.”

Despite currently available resources, 43 percent of UI students said that they would feel somewhat safer if access to mental-health services on campus was improved. About 24 percent said they would feel very safe, and 24 percent said they would feel neither safer nor less safe if access were improved.

The poll also found that, overall, a majority of students feel very safe on the UI campus. Fifty-four percent said they felt very safe, while 43 percent said they felt somewhat safe.

UI student Katie Frank said she believes that some people may not realize they need help.

“From a safety standpoint, I recognize that people who might pose a danger to themselves or others may not have the self-awareness and initiative to seek help on their own,” she said. “In that way, accessibility is not as important as outreach and awareness to help people identify risk factors in themselves and others.”

How it was done

The Polling Literacy and Public Affairs journalism class in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa, in collaboration with iMediaEthics.org, conducted the campus survey.

Before conducting the poll, students in the course learned about sampling methods, interviewing strategies, and question wording and ordering by studying real examples, as well as receiving guidance from David Moore, a former senior editor of the Gallup Organization and now polling director at iMediaEthics.org.

The scientific poll of 676 UI students was conducted Feb. 26-March 6 by students in the journalism course. Respondents were randomly selected from the UI student and faculty directory. Each student was assigned a 400-person call list and was expected to randomly select respondents from that pool. A total of 676 UI students responded, producing a 23.9 percent response rate. There was a 3.77 percent margin of error, which is well within the average margin of error percentile of 3.5-4 percent.

Moore minimally weighted the data to precisely reflect the demographic characteristics of the UI student population.

Of the 2,828 students contacted by phone or email, 676 responded. Roughly 22 percent of respondents completed the survey by a phone interview, while 78 percent completed the survey online by invitation with a controlled access to the SurveyMonkey — an online site commonly used for polls and surveys.

The poll focused primarily on campus safety but also asked respondents about mental health services and gun control.

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