When Penn State’s Class of 2016 voted to endow the campus Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, it was an acknowledgment of the growing need for mental health help for college students.
“College counseling center resources are limited and in high demand,” according to the 2014 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. “Many centers have a waitlist before students can be seen for treatment.”
That is the case at Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services, known as CAPS, where more than 100 students can be on the waiting list for first or follow-up appointments, according to CAPS.
Last year, 3,650 clients were seen by the 25 mental health professionals at CAPS. That’s a 12 percent jump from the previous academic year and a 15 percent increase since 2011-2012.
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Nationally, since 2009, the number of students seen at counseling centers at 93 surveyed institutions rose by 29.6 percent, even though the schools’ enrollment rose only 5.6 percent.
Big Ten schools also have recognized the problem. A “U Are Not Alone” campaign was created last spring by the Association of Big 10 Students. All 14 schools joined to raise mental health awareness, centralize resources and reduce the stigma of seeking help for psychological problems.
In Centre County, the demand for mental health help is not confined to students at University Park.
“Time with a licensed psychiatrist is difficult to find not only locally in Centre County, but throughout the state and actually the nation,” said Tom McDermott, county administrator for mental health, intellectual disabilities, early intervention and drug and alcohol services.
McDermott said he is looking at resources like telepsychology — providing psychological services via a secure, confidential phone or Internet connection — in order to use mental health professionals from outside the county to help meet demand.
Craig Richman, medical director for The Meadows, a psychiatric hospital in Centre Hall, said the 107 beds at The Meadows are almost always filled and the hospital might expand to allow for more inpatient care.
At college campuses, anxiety tops the list of concerns that students bring to their counseling centers. Not far behind are depression and stress, followed by problems with family, academic performance, relationships and a list of more than 35 other types of problems.
The concerns were listed by clinicians at 140 colleges and universities participating in the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a research project based at Penn State, for 2013-2014.
Helping students deal with those kinds of problems and become “healthier and happier” is the goal of the 2016 class gift of the CAPS endowment, its website says.
“When you walk around from campus, when you come back for homecoming, for Arts Fest and for the Blue and White Game, we’ll be seeing a lot of happy students — that is our legacy,” said Ramon Guzman, executive director of the class gift campaign.
Guzman’s personal story is a reminder that mental health problems can affect anyone.
During his senior year in high school, Guzman said, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He would later learn it was a misdiagnosis, but he was prescribed propranolol to control his blood pressure.
A scholarship recipient and former congressional intern, Guzman came to Penn State in the summer of 2012 with big dreams, including graduating summa cum laude. But his academic motivation began to be affected by depression.
When he felt his blood pressure was too much to handle, he said, he would take up to eight pills of propranolol at one time. His academics would suffer further.
At one point during his freshman spring semester, feeling overwhelmed by school and his own emotions, he ingested 12 pills of propranolol at once, Guzman said. He wanted the pain, the pressure, the anxiety and the depression to go away.
“Back then it was a way out, a way out of not disappointing my parents by not finishing college, not disappointing myself by not having the 4.0,” he said.
Guzman recalled vomiting after ingesting the 12 pills. The next thing he remembered is waking up in his dorm in East Halls.
Two days later, Guzman was contacted by a professor about a test he had missed. When he admitted his suicide attempt, the professor ordered him to his office, then took him to get professional help at CAPS.
Situations like Guzman’s, where students suffer from a mental health-related disorder and harm themselves, are becoming more common.
In its 2014 annual report, the Center for Collegiate Health reported that among 82,300 students who sought mental health help and were surveyed, nearly 24 percent said they had purposely injured themselves without the intent of committing suicide. In the center’s 2009 report, the figure was 21 percent.
To CAPS Associate Director Ben Locke, this and the increase in suicide attempts are the most alarming trends in the report. Locke also is executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.
The 2014 report showed that nearly 31 percent of the 82,300 reporting students said they have at least once “seriously considered attempting suicide.” That is up from 25 percent in the 2009 report.
Nearly 9 percent said they had “made a suicide attempt” at least once, up from 8 percent in 2009, when the center began collecting data.
College students seeking mental health help include many who have a history of needing assistance, according to the 2014 report.
“One out of 2 students has been in counseling before, 1 out of 3 has been on a medication, and 1 out of 10 has been hospitalized before,” Locke said.
Mario Marroquin is a Penn State journalism student. Penn State journalism student Blake Cohen contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a six-part series on mental health on campus. The series was produced by students in Penn State’s College of Communications.