In response to rising rates of depression among students and increased demand for therapy, many American universities have been ramping up their mental-health services. These colleges surely want to take care of their students, but it has other benefits too: Mental-health disorders can hinder educational outcomes, lowering grades, delaying students’ graduations, and causing students to drop out.
So, as with a lot of other things involving higher education, some colleges are finding that investing in mental-health services isn’t just a caring thing to do, but something that brings society-wide benefits. A new report from the RAND Corporation suggests that these investments can pay dividends long after graduation by limiting mental-health disorders’ negative effects while students are still in college, which increases their average lifetime earnings.
The study looked at a mental-health initiative in California called the California Mental Health Services Authority, or CalMHSA, which was launched in 2011. CalMHSA currently allots public funding for mental-disorder intervention programs to 10 University of California campuses, 23 California State University schools, and 112 state community colleges. CalMHSA’s annual investments total about $8.7 million (not a huge amount on the scale of campus-wide health service budgets) and according to RAND’s analysis of CalMHSA’s survey data, they led to a 13.2 percent increase in the number of students receiving treatment at California’s public colleges—which by RAND’s estimates led to an additional 329 students graduating.