A new study released by Active Minds finds that providing college students with a forum to discuss mental health issues with their peers increases awareness and reduces stigma, Education Dive reports. Launched in 2003, Active Minds is a nonprofit network of student-run mental health clubs with a presence on more than 600 college campuses.
Alison Malmon founded the organization after the suicide of her older brother, in hopes that “starting a conversation about mental health on a student-to-student level could change our approach to mental health, change the landscape and climate,” she told The Washington Post. “Now we have the data to prove it.”
Study results suggest peer forums lead to swift increase in awareness, outreach
Conducted by policy think tank RAND Corp. and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the longitudinal study surveyed more than 1,100 students at 12 colleges to gauge their awareness of Active Minds and their experiences with and attitudes about mental health and psychological difficulties. The researchers found that, within one academic year, increased involvement with Active Minds was associated with decreased stigma, increased knowledge, and a greater likelihood of helping other students experiencing mental health crises.
College a critical time for intervention in mental health concerns
The RAND report explains that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age students and that as many as 36 percent of students are dealing with some form of serious mental health concern; only about a third of affected students receive treatment or support.
Noting that three-quarters of mental health disorders develop by age 24, Dr. Marcia Morris, author of The Campus Cure: A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health and Wellness for College Students, told HuffPost that college is a likely place where young adults may experience mental health problems for the first time, adding that “the academic, social, and financial pressures placed on this age group are a massive trigger for an array of conditions.”
Mental health struggles also contribute to student dropout rates. Education Dive, for instance, cites prior findings from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health showing that 64 percent of college students receiving mental health services at college and university counseling centers who dropped out did so due to mental health concerns; in many of these cases, counseling services were often cut off arbitrarily or because of treatment limits.
“Student-run programs can help fill in the gap” at schools with limited resources to help students struggling with mental health, The Washington Post reports, adding that community colleges, especially, may encounter “different, and sometimes more complex, mental-health issues.”