Visualizing College Student Mental HealthTreatment

I NTRODUCT I ON The current Annual Report uses visualizations developed from years of CCMH data to explore college student mental health with an emphasis on individual counseling provided by counseling centers. To start, it is worth briefly reviewing the findings from the last two Annual Reports: • 2015 Annual Report: Counseling center utilization increased at 5 to 6 times the rate of institutional enrollment, during the preceding five years. This increase is primarily characterized by students reporting a history of “threat-to-self ” characteristics, and these same students use about 20-30% more services. • 2016 Annual Report: Counseling center resources devoted to “rapid access” services increased by 28%, over the prior six years, whereas resources devoted to “routine treatment” decreased by 7.6% on average. These findings support the idea that programming focused on suicide prevention, stigma reduction, and community intervention efforts focused on “identification and referral” of at-risk students are succeeding. At the same time, rapidly rising demand, paired with risk and flat funding, seem to be making it increasingly difficult for counseling centers to maintain treatment capacity for students who need it. This may manifest as a long wait for an intake, a waiting list to start counseling, or two to three week gaps between appointments. The discussion below will further explore the value of treatment and some of the complexities that underlie policy and funding decisions regarding mental health services in higher education. UNDERSTAND I NG THE VALUE OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT Treatment provided by counseling centers is effective. After comparing treatment outcomes for more than 100 randomized clinical trials (RCT’s) to counseling center services offered nationally, McAleavey et al. (2017) concluded that counseling center treatment achieves the same magnitude of symptom reduction as RCTs across multiple domains such as depression and anxiety. The authors noted, however, that counseling center clients are not consistently returning to “non-clinical” levels of distress at the end of treatment, and hypothesized that this may be related to a shorter average length of treatment when compared to RCT’s. When these findings are considered alongside results from prior CCMH annual reports (rising demand, increasing “rapid access” services, decreasing “routine treatment” services), policy implications emerge quickly. To visualize the overall effect of counseling center treatment on student distress, data provided by students receiving treatment were examined. Overall distress was measured at the first appointment and then throughout treatment using the Distress Index of the CCAPS. Only students with high levels of initial distress were included for this analysis. Reported levels of distress are averaged at each appointment, and those average scores are plotted in Chart #1.


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