This is the final story in a three-part series about the relationship between education and mental health. You can read the first piece about mental health in early education here and the second on the lack of teacher training to address mental-health issues here.
Today’s college students seek campus counseling services more often than any other generation in the modern history of the United States. Most of those who report mental-health challenges cite anxiety and depression as their top concerns.
In last year’s 10-year summary report, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health set out to determine whether the overall growth in enrollment at universities was responsible for the increased usage of these services by retrospectively comparing the growth rates of each. What they found was a dismaying gap: Not only did the rise in demand for counseling services outpace that of enrollment growth, it also outpaced it by five times as much.
The increase in demand has sparked a fear, especially among college administrators, that young students across the country are becoming more sensitive and less resilient, which has fed a vigorous national debate between students, faculty, and universities about the treatment of mental health in classrooms. Inevitably, the language of mental health has trickled into higher education. Some universities, like Oberlin, proposed the adoption of trigger warnings, disclaimers intended to protect those with past traumatic experiences such as sexual assault and violence, by forewarning the appearance of disturbing material in text. The pushback against Oberlin’s proposal was swift and vehement. Faculty questioned the loss of academic freedom, the Los Angeles Times called it “the glorification of victimhood,” and Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in a widely dissected piece for The Atlantic, argued that such policies were enabling students to develop “extra-thin skins” by preventing them from feeling uncomfortable, objectively analyzing their emotional states, and overcoming their setbacks. The emerging picture of the hypersensitive, fragile college student is predicated, in part, on this statistical increase in demand for counseling services.