Do College Students Care More About Mental Health Than Administrators?

"Our administration doesn't care about us, so I'm here to learn how I can do something to help students with mental health problems on my campus. "

Last month, I was teaching a breakout about mental health curriculum at a leadership conference for college students in Pittsburgh. For years, I have always started these programs by asking the students why they chose to come to this session. It was the first time in my fourteen-year career that the lists of reasons continued for 20 minutes, and were focused directly at college administrations.

"We've had so many suicides on campus, and administrators keep telling us they will respond, but they don't."

"The waiting lines at our counseling center are so long, that some of us don't have a chance to be seen for months. I've watched friends have to drop out of school in that time, because they can't get help."

"We don't have enough resources that allow us to talk about mental health with each other. One of my fraternity brothers took his own life. The campus was great in responding to the grief we had, but when I asked for resources that would allow us to talk about the issue in our chapter they couldn't help us."

Last month, it was widely reported that students at the University of Pennsylvania felt they needed to take action after the tenth suicide in the past three years. After a suicide at MIT, students created an online network that allows them to be connected to help. Members of Active Minds all over the country have lobbied hard to have the counseling center's number listed on the back of all student ID's.

In my experience college administrations do care about the issue of mental health, but are worried about how to respond. Over the past decade, colleges have increased the amount of counselors, started awareness campaigns, and created task forces to determine how to help students. In some ways administrators are handcuffed to respond to mental health issues, because they are worried about liability. Whereas students can come up with quick, creative approaches that address the most urgent needs.

Non-profit organizations have been created to help college administrations better respond to mental health challenges. The Jordan Porco Foundation hosts fresh check days on campuses to raise awareness and direct students to resources that can help them. The Jed Foundation has a checklist for campuses to utilize in order to determine if they are meeting the needs of their students.

UCLA's Healthy Campus Initiative is one of the best examples of how to address this difficult issue. The goal of their program is to make UCLA the healthiest campus in America. The administration regularly works with students by empowering them to create their own programs to address the biggest concerns they see. Students develop unique approaches to educate others on sleep, diet, mindfulness and other pressing concerns. The collaboration between administrators and students allows everyone to feel like they have a voice in making the campus better.