Transitioning to adulthood, to college, to a new living situation with new people is difficult. Doing all of this in the midst of a years-long pandemic is even more challenging. The data on mental health among young adults reflects this burden.
A study published in 2021 shows that more than half of college students met criteria for at least one psychiatric condition in the past year. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past two years, half of 18- to 24-year-olds report anxiety, half report a depressive disorder, and almost two-thirds in this age group report both. There's no question that mental health services need to be available and thriving on college campuses to help students.
Indiana University campuses have long had resources and support for its students, including counseling, crisis services, food pantries and financial aid resources. These areas are now getting more attention with the university's new Student Mental Health Initiative. The initiative, led by IU Chief Health Officer Dr. Aaron Carroll, is reviewing current services, making recommendations for improvements and developing long-term plans for monitoring students' mental health.
"Mental health is incredibly important to everyone's overall health and well-being," Carroll said. "Knowing our students are in an age group where mental distress is even more common, we must do more to support them outside of the classroom with resources and services."
Carroll is working with colleagues from across the university to develop and implement recommendations for the future of mental health and well-being resources on IU's campuses. The team, which has included students from the start, has already audited all current services, met individually and collectively with the directors of Counseling and Psychological Services, known as CAPS, on all campuses, and reviewed previously completed task force reports on this topic.
In addition, the team has launched a new online home for mental health and well-being services on all IU campuses. The new site includes a guide of resources searchable by campus and IU role (student, faculty, staff) as well as information about the initiative.
"Through this site, and the future work of our group, we're striving to make mental health resources more visible, more accessible to our students," Carroll said. "We need our students to know how, when and where to seek help if they need it, and to not be afraid or feel ashamed to ask for help."
As part of this initiative, the team will focus on three key areas related to mental health and wellness: Culture and climate, services and support, and policies and protocols. Each focus area will be guided by a task force of diverse individuals from campuses across IU. The task forces each have planned action items and will be working through each of these items, which include both short- and long-term solutions as well as benchmarks for tracking progress and success.
The task forces are beginning to meet now and work through their action items. It's expected for the task forces' work to be complete by June 1.
"We know that mental health care is more than just having services," Carroll said. "It's about creating a culture and environment in which students feel comfortable talking about these issues and seeking services as needed. This, in tandem with having the needed and available resources, is our ultimate goal."