Editorial: Increase mental services awareness


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A poll of University of Iowa students conducted earlier this month by members of a Polling Literacy and Public Affairs journalism course at the UI found that a large number of students are unfamiliar with the mental-health services available to them, many through the school.

Forty-two percent of students do not know about on-campus access to mental health care, according to the scientific poll, which was conducted between Feb. 26 and March 6 and had a sample size of 676 students. The margin of error was 3.77 percent.

Among the students surveyed, just over a fourth rated campus mental-health services “good,” while one in six said they were “very good.” Though these results are a positive sign, the proportion of students with a positive opinion of mental-health care at the UI was virtually identical to the proportion that was unaware of such programs. This fact is particularly disturbing in light of the prevalence of mental-health concerns among college students.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the university should do more to increase awareness about the dangers of such mental-health conditions as depression and anxiety and better promote the on-campus programs designed to alleviate such problems.

According to the 2012 National College Health Assessment, a survey that measures the health of college students across the country, mental-health problems are widespread at the UI. Last year, 24 percent of UI students reported that stress had become an impediment to their learning, 17 percent cited anxiety as an impediment, and 9 percent cited depression.

One in 10 men and one in five women reported having at least one mental-health condition; depression and anxiety were the most commonly reported conditions. One in 20 UI students reported that they had seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Most disturbingly, only 67 percent of students said that they would “consider seeking help from a mental-health professional in the future if they had a personal problem that was bothering them.”

Only 13.4 percent reported that they had received health or counseling services from the university. The University Counseling Service, one on-campus organization that offers mental-health care to students, reports that only 6 or 7 percent of students take advantage of their services.

Given the prevalence of mental-health problems here, it’s clear that the university should do more to promote good mental health for its students. Some of the considerable resources that the school allocates to fight student alcohol abuse, for example, could be better used to promote mental health.

According to a November 2011 study from the University of Virginia, the leading cause of death among students at four-year American universities is suicide. The study found that just over six of every 100,000 American college students will commit suicide every year. That’s almost twice as many annual deaths as the next leading cause, alcohol-related traffic accidents, which claim about 3.4 students per 100,000 every year.

Right now at the UI, too many students suffer from mental-health problems, and too few are familiar with the types of treatment made available by the university. The school must promote awareness of conditions such as depression and anxiety that affect a large swath of students and better advertise programs like the University Counseling Service and the Johnson County Crisis Center — among many others — that exist to help students with mental-health conditions.

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