Mental Health Problems and Help-Seeking Behavior Among College Students

Increased treatment of depression and attention disorders at younger ages could improve academic performance and test scores; students already receiving psychotropic medications may be able to function in the college environment while coping with severe emotional disorders.

College campus shootings become major news stories that capture the public’s attention. These events represent atypical behavior. However, they hint at a broader public health problem: mental illness among college students.

The college campus is an ideal setting to study mental health disorders. Students generally conduct most of their academic and social activities on campus. The campus provides health and other support services. Furthermore, the academic nature of a college campus should facilitate the development, evaluation and sharing of best practices.

This literature review establishes a robust base of research. The authors focus on four primary topics: (1) the current state of mental health in the college student population; (2) risk factors among college students; (3) recent worsening of mental health problems and possible explanations; and (4) current treatment of mental health disorders on college campuses.

Key Findings:

  • Despite the surge in students seeking help, mental health disorders often go untreated; according to a major study only 24 percent of students with depression are receiving treatment.
  • College students with drug and alcohol problems are significantly less likely to receive treatment than their peers who do not attend college.

Apparent increases in the number of students with mental health disorders could reflect that more students are seeking treatment. This article considers that possibility and discusses whether mental disorders on college campuses result from broader societal trends or issues specific to the college environment.