Upfront

Despite mounting mental health problems among students at community colleges, fewer than 13 percent provide psychiatric services for students, finds a January survey by the American College Counseling Association.

By contrast, 56 percent of four-year colleges and universities offer on-campus psychiatric services, according to ACCA data.

And while 68 percent of community colleges do offer some sort of personal counseling, the lack of psychiatric care is worrisome since many community college students are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems compared with their traditional university student counterparts, says Amy Lenhart, chair of the ACCA Community College Task Force that conducted the survey of 294 community college counselors. Twoyear college students are more likely than university students to be employed or supporting family members while they attend school — stressors that can take their toll on these students’ mental health, she says. The survey data support the notion that such stressors are affecting these students: 60 percent of the community college counselors ACCA surveyed reported that they had seen more severe problems among students they counseled within the last year.

The lack of services for these students is also troubling because commuter students are particularly vulnerable to having their problems go unnoticed on campus, says Lenhart.

Community colleges don’t have residencelife staff who help faculty and staff watch out for signs of student mental illness, such as cutting off contact with friends or chronically missing classes. says Lenhart. “So if there is a crisis, sometimes, sadly, we don’t know until after it has happened.”

Contributing to the problem is that many community college counselors can’t devote enough time to student care, says Lenhart. On top of their mental health counseling duties, 97 percent of counselors surveyed said they were responsible for serving on campus committees, academic advising and career counseling.

“We wear a lot of different hats,” says Lenhart. “If you’ve got counselors doing all kinds of other things, how are they going to be there effectively for the students?”

—J. Chamberlin