Mental health care access is free and accessible to students seeking extended education across the nation, yet data shows that most students with mental disorders do not seek treatment.
The study, published in 2007 by the Medical Care Journal, titled “Help-Seeking and Access to Mental Health Care in a University Student Population,” focused on why students with mental disorders—who have access to free short-term psychotherapy—do not receive treatment.
Such factors include the attitudes and beliefs about services as well as a lack of awareness and familiarity of service options.
According to a study conducted by Health Services Research, delays in initial treatment contact after the first onset of a mental disorder are important factors of the larger problem of unmet need for mental health care in the U.S.
Research from the National Comorbidity Survey reports that most mental disorders first emerge between the ages of 15 and 24.
Active Minds, a student organization at Cal State Fullerton, is committed to changing the way students perceive mental health.
Stephanie Lopez, the president of Active Minds, said the group promotes mental health on campus.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to seeking mental help … we tell students on campus where resources are like the student health and counseling centers are or … the Women’s Center … to make them aware because some students don’t even know where the counseling center is or that we even have one,” Lopez said.
According to the study “mental health in young adulthood is associated with substance use, academic achievement, employment and other social outcomes later in life.”
The most prominent factor found by the research for why students do not seek help was a lack of perceived need for help as well as the belief that stress and lack of time in school is normal.
“The age range 18-24 is when students develop behaviors … and a lot of times people think they’re supposed to have it all figured out when really, learning effective coping mechanisms and figuring out how to deal with stress and roll with the punches … you have to be taught that,” said Liz Blache, vice-president of Active Minds.
Matt Englar-Carlson, Ph.D., a professor of educational psychology and co-director of the Center for Boys and Men at CSUF, completes research on campus on mental health.
According to Englar-Carlson, there are many social stereotype factors that keep college-age men from seeking help.
“Health care access data suggests that women are much more likely to seek help and better at doing preventative care as well,” Englar-Carlson said.
Englar-Carlson worked at a counseling center at Pennsylvania State University when he began noticing a pattern of men who waited for a crisis situation to occur before seeking help.
He said this sparked his curiosity to investigate further, which brought him to his current position at CSUF.
“As a counselor, you’re band-aiding things as opposed to really building skills,” said Englar-Carlson. “I certainly understood it, as a man growing up in this culture, I understand it, but I also thought we could do a lot better.”
The 2012 National College Health Assessment, an on-campus survey, reported 32 percent of the student population believes stress directly impacted their academic achievement.
“Cal State Fullerton is two times higher the national average in decree social support … we’re thinking it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re a commuter school,” Blache said.
Lisa Weisman-Davlantes, Ph.D., a psychology professor at CSUF, said the disconnect of social support can be aided through freshman programs, which she will teach in the upcoming fall semester.
“We take them on tours, we show them all the resources on campus, we have speakers come into the classroom and they have a community so at least they know 25 other people … the first couple of weeks they’re here … there’s a lot of confusion about how much is available on the campus, a lot of people don’t know about the resources,” Weisman-Davlantes said.
Weisman-Davlantes added that she believes a major stress factor for college students is the pressure, both internal and external, to succeed.
“You’re stressed out because you have deadlines … you might be away from home for the first time. You have pressures to finish, now money is being payed for your education … and then you start getting anxious, you start getting depressed,” Weisman-Davlantes said.
Miguel Ramirez, 21, an Active Minds member and third-year accounting major at CSUF, joined the group when he realized the disdain associated with homelessness in the country and the pressures of succeeding.
“We often congratulate and praise those that succeed but shun and forget about people that fail … I think that leads to a lot of problems with depression,” Ramirez said. “People own their failures and feel like it’s all their fault when in reality sometimes it was out of their hands.”
In order to alleviate the pressures of social stigmas attached to seeking help, Weisman-Davlantes said people must “normalize” the act of asking for help.
“Everybody in their life is going to be clinically depressed, according to the DSM IV … congratulations, you’re human,” she said.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV is a book that classifies mental disorders and is published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Weisman-Davlantes and Englar- Carlson both said stress levels and mental disorders are similar on all college campuses.
They also agreed that it is normal for students to struggle with mental disorders at some point during their college career and they encourage students to ask for help.
“We have to encourage and emphasize that college is not just about getting grades, it’s about becoming a person,” Weisman- Davlantes said.