An increased awareness of mental health issues is leading to more college students being hospitalized for psychological reasons, according to new data from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD).

More than 3,700 students were hospitalized for suicide threats and other mental health issues in 2010, a significant jump from the 2,069 hospitalizations reported in 2006, the first year the survey was conducted. The survey found a rate of 7.93 hospitalizations per 10,000 students last year, up from 5.39 hospitalizations per 10,000 students in 2008, a 47 percent increase.

Anxiety was the most commonly cited complaint bringing students in to counseling centers last year, edging out depression as the top reason for seeing a counselor.

One factor driving the increase is that more universities are establishing “students of concern committees,” which coordinate the treatment of students with mental health and behavioral issues who have come to the attention of professors, campus police and residence hall advisers, says Victor M. Barr, PhD, director of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville counseling center.

Compared with years past, most institutions now have specific written policies to help students get treatment and to monitor their progress, Barr says.

The survey also found that:

  • 75 percent of directors reported needing additional psychiatric services for students.
  • 25 percent of students seen in counseling centers were already taking psychotropic medications.

As a result of increased demand for services, campus counseling centers are getting budget approval from their institutions to hire more psychiatrists and bring on more case managers to track treatment referrals, says Dan Jones, PhD, AUCCCD president and counseling center director at Appalachian State University.

“It used to be that counseling centers would give clients a list of three therapists and leave it in the client’s hands to get treatment when referred out,” Jones says.

—C. Munsey