Individual Paper

Mental Health at a University Level

Individual Article

Mental health is an issue that is of great concern around the world, but also it is heavily concentrated in the academic environment among students attending universities.  With concerns over mental health of students, the available resources that students can use have become one of the biggest issues for universities to address.  Through research on available resources and statistics we can see that mental health is a growing issue that needs to be addressed to ensure students have the most success in their college courses. I was able to interview Dr.Meehan of GMU’s CAPS department and find out more about what CAPS can offer students as well as figure out what initiatives can be taken to solve the mental health issues student’s face.



Anxiety, stress, and depression are just a sample of the mental health issues students’ face on a daily basis.  These illness’ not only affect them as people and their everyday lives, but it also has an effect on their grades and academic career. There a key facts to understand with mental health before the problem of mental health can be addressed from NYU’s Psychological center.   22.5% of NYU students reported that anxiety had impacted their academic performance in the past twelve months.   This means that almost one in four students have had their performance in school affected by mental health conflictions. This is a huge number among college students that affects grades and potential future employment from the grades along with other outcomes such as being forced to change majors, dropping out of school, and even forced to leave extra curricular groups.  Another important statistic that pops out to me is that 90% of college university counseling centers reported an increase in psychological problems among their students.  This massive influx of students receiving psychological help requires psychological services to have more staff as well as provide more services to help the students.

George Mason’s Counseling and Psychological Services(CAPS) center provides help to students in many ways to address the rise in mental health problems among the student populations. To combat the psychological war among students, CAPS provides services such as one on one counseling, workshops to help provide techniques to improve mental health, and also psychiatric services. Through these main services CAPS hopes to help the students get a grip on their mental health and take back control of their academic career and stress.

CAPS at GMU is the primary mental health provider for GMU students. There is immediate access to counselors for any stress or health problems on a 24/7 basis. CAPS is able to offer individual counseling, group and meditation workshops, and lastly psychiatric services.  In addition to these services CAPS provides case management services to help students connect on and off campus for help as well as community education and prevention on the subject of suicide.

An interesting statistic is that 75 percent of lifelong mental disorders have first onset in the college years from eighteen to twenty four years of age.  Not only are students suffering with mental health, but unless it is addressed for the future, then these disorders can last a lifetime even though they have spawned from college. Dr.Meehan said that the main causes students come to GMU CAPS is for anxiety and depression with anxiety being the leading cause.  Some interesting statistics show that about 30-35 percent of students seriously considered attempting suicide and about 9-10 percent have actually made an attempt.

Figure 1: Brochures of different workshops for students

Other important statistics were from Penn State University. They posted an annual report on the mental health conditions of students across the nation.  One out of two students have been to counseling, one out of three have taken medication for mental health, one out of four have self injured themselves, and nearly one in 10 have been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons.  Viewing these numbers show a rise in the students mental health needs at university.  The cause of stress can be related to the school environment and the stress and anxiety it causes on students to get good grades and keep up with their health. I was able to talk to Dr.Meehan about why she believes there is a rise in psychology services in the university setting. She believes the rise in services is from a few aspects.  One of which is that our society is progressing to accept the fact that we need to seek help and people are reducing the stigma around mental health being a bad thing.  She also believes with the change in technology that we have access to it also plays an effect on our minds and is an addition to stress in our daily lives.

CAPS is able to help students in time of acute crisis.  The CAPS center provides permanent solutions to temporary problems of mental health instead of the individual taking drastic measures.  They are also able to provide better academic performance and graduation rates from students participating and learning in workshops and coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.

An important factor of mental health is maintaining a healthy lifestyle to strive for good health. Creating a balance between school, work, and social life can cause a lot of stress.  An important factor of keeping mental health well is exercising as well as taking breaks away from work and having some relaxation time.  Some students fail to maintain the balance and spiral out of mental health resulting in some of the statistics seen above.  There is a top ten list of causes for students experiencing mental health disorders.  At the top of the list is anxiety and depression.  These are not surprising as we can see from the statistics that students are suffering from depression, suicide, and stress from school. The next three are Relationship problems, stress, and academic performance.  When looking at the top five it is clear to see why students are struggling with mental health and why it has been affecting their grades and overall well being.


Another issue CAPS tries to fight off is the stigma that it is bad to seek help for mental illness.  With the suicide rate being the highest cause of death for teens and young adults above all other medical illnesses combined, it is sometimes hard for individuals to step out from the shadows and into the public to get the help they need.  According to American College Health Association in Spring 2015 two-thirds of students who are struggling with mental health do not seek treatment.  By not reaching out for help the struggle will grow and become worse over time leading to suicide and other lifelong mental health conditions.  GMU CAPS offers free and confidential psychology services which is hugely important for those at school who cannot afford to seek help outside of the university.  Dr.Meehan informed me that the time to talk to someone in CAPS that is non emergency is quicker than ever with a reduced time of around two weeks before an appointment to around four days.  With new funding, GMU’s CAPS can now also add new positions and expand their services to students with the help of Student Health Advisory Board, CAPS, Students Heal and Disability, and the Student Advocacy Center. By gathering the input of multiple organizations CAPS can figure out what to change and what to keep in their system.

Figure 2: Displayed is the entrance to the CAPS office at GMU

Mental health can take away from student’s ability to finish school.  64 percent of young adults who are no longer in college are not attending anymore because of mental health related illness’.  31 percent of college students have felt so depressed in the past year that it was difficult to function and more than 50 percent have felt overwhelming anxiety, making it difficult to succeed in school.  Mental health can cause self harm and can change how a person interacts in the world. It is important to address the mental health issue so that students no longer need to feel pressured from it and can feel safe talking about it.  It is not only important for their personal well being, but it is also important for them to succeed in school.

The demand for mental health services on campus is growing at an alarming rate.  Without the proper treatment students are likely to drop out of school, see a decline in GPA score, and be unemployed after school as compared to those students who do not suffer from mental health conflictions.  Services that CAPS offers to hope to change the mental health realm at GMU are addressing mental health training for students and staff, suicide prevention programs, and walk in student health centers with hotlines to be able to contact in case of emergency.  Some next steps that can be taken to prevent the decline of mental health can be to participate in Mason Cares, which is a suicide prevention gatekeeper training program made to identify when someone needs help and how you can help them.  IT is also important for the stigma to continue to decrease that seeking help for mental health is a problem. It is important for students to reach out and not isolate ourselves with the problem which will then spiral the problem further out of control. By students seeking more help and the CAPS at GMU providing new group workshops and ongoing individual help, we can hope to see a rise in academic performance, graduation rates, and a decline in suicides, and mental health problems that plague students across the nation.


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