Modernizing Mental Health Treatment on College Campuses

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Diane Simmons, PsyD
Assistant Director at Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Supervisor of the College Support Program, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Simmons D. Modernizing mental health treatment on college campuses [Published online February 27, 2019]. Consultant360.


College is a transitional time and a period of tremendous growth, accompanied by numerous pressures and challenges. Stressors such as academic pressures, substance use, financial issues, trauma, and eating issues are often contributors to the state of a student’s mental health.1

Although anxiety and depression are the most common psychological issues among students, students are increasingly coming to college with more severe issues. According to the 2017 Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors survey, more than 25% of students with current psychotropic medication use had entered treatment at college counseling centers, and 16% of students had significant histories of treatment, hospitalizations, and suicide attempts.2

Resources for mental health treatment are an ongoing issue in colleges nationwide. Data from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health reports counseling center utilization has increased by an average of 30% to 40%, while enrollment increased by only 5%.3 Despite the increased utilization of services, there are still barriers to seeking treatment. Some barriers include stigma about accessing mental health services, awareness of services, financial issues, and cultural and social factors.1

Presently, many colleges and universities are attempting numerous innovative ways to reach as many students as possible. At Rutgers University, for example, some of these efforts include:

  • Embedding 6 counselors in 13 non-clinical locations to meet students in communities where they feel most comfortable.
  • Providing after-hours phone support for students in crisis.
  • Offering an option to make counseling appointments online.
  • Offering a College Support Program for students with autism spectrum disorder.
  • Offering an on-campus concentrated care program.
  • Collaborating with partners in Rutgers’ Student Affairs and Academic Affairs divisions, training them to recognize warning signs, and educating them on how to refer students to appropriate resources.

Many students have reported that counseling services have helped them improve their academic functioning, learn more effective ways to deal with stress, and understand ways to develop and maintain healthy relationships, thus demonstrating that counseling is critical in retaining students and reducing mental health distress.3


  1. Cimini MD, River EM. Promoting behavioral health and reducing risk among college students: a comprehensive approach. 1st ed. United States. Routledge; 2018.
  2. LeViness P, Bershad C, Gorman K. The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors annual survey. 2017. Accessed on February 26, 2019.
  3. Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2018 Annual Report. The Pennsylvania State University. 2018. Accessed on February 26, 2019.