- College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It
Counseling center directors and chief student affairs officers have documented (or just agree) that the level of serious mental health problems among college students has increased dramatically over the past decade (Marsh, 2004). College counseling centers are finding it more difficult to meet the increasing demand for services while many institutions are experiencing budget difficulties because of declining institutional revenue. Some institutions are trimming support services rather than increasing them.
College of the Overwhelmed offers a compelling argument for stregenthing this area of student services despite economic uncertainty. It provides a detailed view into developmental and student mental health issues. Its intended audience is parents, students, counseling center directors, and student services professionals.
While it may document what counseling center directors and student service professionals already know, the authors skillfully construct an understandable framework for informing those unfamiliar with mental health issues and student development theory about why the level of psychological problems among college students has increased so dramatically and what can be done to address the problem. Offering this framework is important since the general public has become aware of problems among college students in recent years through highly publicized cases of college student suicide and the lawsuits that often follow. Because of these incidents, both parents and students are demanding that services be increased to meet student needs.
The book consists of two sections, part I, "The Problems" and part II, "The Solution." In part I, the authors discuss the normal developmental issues college students face and then offer a litany of stressors such as peer pressure, competition, cultural adjustment, and financial problems. Part II examines what can be done by students, parents and college staff to address these issues. The authors direct two chapters specifically at the audience of students and parents and present case histories about actual students and weave national statistics into the text. They provide an extensive list of mental health resources in the appendixes, along with The 2002 American College Health Association Survey Results and the Check List for Colleges and Counseling Centers.
In chapter 1, the authors discuss the developmental issues students face as they move to college for the first time and experience both the freedom of being away from home and the challenges associated with making their own decisions. Some students apply their family values to their new environments, only to find that their peers are not receptive. Other students may intentionally challenge their family beliefs by engaging in risky sexual behaviors, excessive drinking, and/or taking illicit drugs.
Chapter 2 discusses competition and pressure. Subtopics include academic, extracurricular, parental, racial, and cultural issues that affect students' normal developmental processes. The authors outline themes like [End Page 556] perfectionism, the inability to relax, the pressure exerted by parents, and student involvement in cocurricular activities. They have done an masterful job explaining to parents how to recognize when their expectations are too high and how to approach communication with their sons or daughters at school.
Levels of discrimination experienced by many minority and international students are discussed along with how this compounds the normal stress associated with academic life. The post-9/11 era has made it difficult for international students, particularly Middle Eastern students, to navigate the immigration process. Once on campus they may face discrimination from members of the institutional and local communities. Discrimination in the campus community ultimately impedes student development and increases the likelihood that these students will eventually decide to leave the institution.
Chapter 3 highlights how student financial stress has become a prominent issue for students in recent years due to the depressed economy. Comprehensive fees have increased at approximately twice the rate of inflation, and the costs often place parents in an untenable position, particularly if they have multiple children in college. Money issues often require students to assist in making up the difference by working long hours to pay for their educations...