College Students In Crisis. What You Need To Know Now.

There’s a mental health crisis spreading across our colleges and universities. If you’re a parent of a college-aged child – or an aunt, uncle or grandparent – you should be very concerned.  If you’re a college administrator, college student mental health issues shouldn’t be coming as a surprise to you.

The Disturbing Facts

It’s time we think seriously about college student mental health and the emotional turmoil that is affecting so many of our college students.   You might be surprised, and probably shocked, at these statistics provided in an article recently by Gene Beresin, Harvard Medical School Professor of Psychiatry:

  • 73% of college students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college.
  • Almost 50% of college students have had a psychiatric disorder in the past year.
  • Almost 33% of college students report having felt so depressed, they had trouble functioning.
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they have to do.
  • 45% have felt that things were hopeless.
  • College directors of counseling services say demand for counseling services has grown at least five times faster than average student enrollment.
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help.

These problems, of course, lead to other problems, starting with diminished school performance. In a University of Michigan study, depression was shown to be a significant predictor of not only GPA, but also the likelihood of dropping out. In addition, the co-occurrence of depression and anxiety is associated with a significant additional drop in GPA.

With all this going on, alcohol and drug abuse cannot be far behind. Even suicide comes into play. Yes, this mental health crisis is serious, and something must be done.

The Rest of the Story

Let’s start this section by being perfectly transparent: Espyr, offers a Student Assistance Program (SAP) providing colleges and universities with licensed behavioral health experts that support students with free and confidential professional assessment, counseling, referral services, coaching and other support services. Would we like every campus to offer a customized Espyr SAP? Yes. Would this completely solve the problem? No. But it is a big piece in solving the puzzle.

Unfortunately, for the typical college student in emotional trouble, there are too many factors getting in the way of finding any kind of help. According to the Huffington Post article quoted previously these include:

  • Age-Specific Vulnerabilities – About 50% of psychiatric disorders begin by age 14.
  • Immature Brains – The human brain does not fully mature until about age 26. Until we reach our mid-twenties, the brain is largely driven by emotion.
  • The Stigma of Mental Health Problems – This stigma exists for adults, as well as college-aged children. Students may worry about a “black mark” on their record or being judged and categorized by peers.
  • Limited On-Campus Services – Even in small schools, the ratio of certified counselors to students can be 1:2,000 – or worse.

Making Things Better

This situation cannot be fixed overnight. But we have to begin. Just looking at some of the issues and problems already mentioned, the action plan is fairly clear:

  • Increase Access to Qualified Help – For the suffering students who want to get help, they need to have places to go, people to call or websites to visit. Of course, an SAP from Espyr or elsewhere can help in this regard, and has proven repeatedly to be extremely valuable to thousands of students and their families.
  • Increase On-Campus Learning – Key to prevention is accessible education about mental health issues, as well as promoting all options for finding help.  SAPs like Espyr’s can help faculty and administrators with training, workshops, and access to educational resources.
  • Decrease the Stigma – Again, education is key. The more students realize they’re not alone in their suffering, the more they’ll be willing to seek help.
  • Promote Student Well-Being – Good mental health is promoted by good nutrition, exercise, good sleep habits, meditation, discussion groups and more. These activities should be part of every campus curriculum, whether official or not.

These suggestions are not exhaustive, by any means. But it’s a step in the right direction, a step towards saving our children from unnecessary suffering. Maybe, even, saving their lives.

For more information on how to develop a customized Student Assistance Program for your educational institution, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to


Suicides On The Rise: What Should Employers Do?

As always happens following celebrity suicides, the deaths of fashion icon Kate Spade and author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain have led to a barrage of TV, news and social media stories exploring how and why they died complete with as many details as possible. Unfortunately, these tragedies – and this coverage – often lead to more of the same. In a study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, media reports of suicides of well-known figures can trigger suicides in viewers and readers. When someone struggling with mental health issues sees that someone with similar issues responded to that suffering by killing themselves, says news site Vox, “It puts death on the table.”

But these stories can also have a positive effect; they can cause employers concerned about the physical and mental health of their employees to evaluate their healthcare plans and determine if they’re doing enough.

Causes of Suicide

While the cause of suicide is not known, it most often occurs when the stresses of life exceed the coping abilities of someone already suffering from a mental health condition. In these cases, at these moments, stressors and health issues converge to create strong feelings of hopelessness and despair, something that seems impossible to overcome through any other method than death.

Most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life. Regrettably, it’s more common for those conditions to go untreated. Depression is the most common risk factor associated with suicide, and it’s often one that is undiagnosed or untreated. Other risk factors include anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder and a family history of suicide.

Any of the conditions mentioned, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk for suicide.

The Cost of Suicide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) shares the latest statistics on suicide, and it’s not good news. Here are just a few of the startling facts:

  • Since 1999, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen nearly 30%.
  • Almost 45,000 Americans die each year by suicide – about 123 per day.
  • For every documented suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts.
  • Suicide costs the U.S. $69 billion annually in medical costs and work loss.

To make matters worse, since the stigma surrounding suicide leads to underreporting, the CDC estimates these numbers to be higher.

The Employer’s Role

Those employers who currently provide some sort of behavioral health counseling benefit – better yet, a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – are already going in the right direction. Same with school administrators providing a Student Assistant Program (SAP). Their employees (or students) have a place to go when they feel the need to seek help.

More comprehensive EAPs and SAPs, however, don’t stop at basic counseling. Some offer early suicide identification services and 24/7/365 intervention. Others conduct suicide prevention training activities on location or, in the aftermath of a suicide, critical incident trauma responses to help the rest of the community deal with their feelings.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re worried about confidentiality, they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment or they believe “things will just work out.”

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees and students with a convenient, anonymous way to connect with a qualified counselor about available service options through their EAP – and address their concerns before they escalate. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employee/Student visits the anonymous ISP website
  2. Takes a brief stress and depression questionnaire
  3. Receives a personal response from an EAP counselor
  4. Exchanges messages with counselor – asks and learns about available services
  5. Gets feedback and encouragement
  6. Requests an appointment or referral

Offered in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program has been especially effective. As one participant put it, “I was finally able to let someone know how badly I was feeling without any judgement.”

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your employees (or student population) deal with feelings of suicide – or any other behavioral health issue – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or click here: