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September, 2006

A Snapshot of College Mental Health Centers

For many people, college is one of the best times of life. The college years provide a critical transition from childhood to adulthood, as well as a unique time to pursue academic interests and bond with friends.

However, the college years (typically 18 to 24 years of age) also coincide with the age of onset for serious mental illnesses and can be a crucial time to diagnose and treat young people in the early stages of a mental illness. And, because of improvements in early detection, more students now than ever are entering college already having a diagnosis of a serious mental illness and a treatment plan. Together, this means that mental illness is a growing reality on college campuses today.

To gauge the readiness of college campuses in supporting students with mental health needs, NAMI National surveyed the directors of selected campus mental health centers. The sample included 150 colleges and universities known for academic excellence and represented public and private, large and small institutions in every region of the country.

The results provide a snapshot of mental health practices and policies at colleges across the country, including:

A spreading awareness of mental health on campus

* Eighty-eight percent of campus mental health centers provide training for on-campus employees in various departments, including residential staff, academic advisers, and campus security.

The vast majority of mental health centers have the capacity to treat students with serious mental illness

* Approximately three-quarters of mental health centers either employ a psychiatrist or have a partnership with a community-based psychiatrist for referrals.

University policies are flexible for students with serious mental illness

* Eighty-eight percent of schools offer students in need of intensive psychiatric care a leave of absence without academic penalty. For students who have attempted suicide, the majority of schools evaluate the student’s standing on a case-by-case basis.

* For students returning after a leave of absence, schools connect students to a variety of supports, both on and off-campus.

To get involved in college mental health, consider starting a campus affiliate of NAMI. To date, thirty-one schools have a NAMI on Campus affiliate to provide education, support, and advocacy for students with mental illnesses. For more information, visit the NAMI on Campus Web site.


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