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Study: Stress Levels Rise For Those In College

ALBANY — Rising cases of mental illness among college students have fueled academic failures, absenteeism, self-harm and legal troubles for students, the Mental Health Association in New York State said in a new report this week.

The nonprofit advocate for mental health programs recommended a “literacy” campaign aimed at students and staffers at campuses across the state, suggesting such an effort could help with necessary interventions and offer guidance to those gripped by depression.

The association also called for “whole health parity,” so that mental health needs can be met with the same response given to physical health ailments, with clear policies for leaves of absences and other “reasonable accommodations” to ensure taking time off for counseling does not have negative consequences, such as loss of scholarship.

The pandemic has exacerbated the mental health “crisis” at colleges and universities, the association said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a level of fear, uncertainty and isolation so profound that its impact has increased the incidence of moderate to severe anxiety and depression among first-year college students by 40% and 48% respectively,” the report noted.

The state government should recognize the scope of the needs by developing a public policy response, said Glenn Liebman, the association’s CEO.

“We’re grateful to the state lawmakers who have already expressed an eagerness to address this issue and collaborate with us,” Liebman said.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities have expanded their services for students to deal with the growing mental health needs, said Emily Morgese, spokesperson for the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

She said the commission welcomes the opportunity to work with policymakers on the issue.

At the State University College at Oneonta, administrators recognized the need for more counseling resources and contracted with a tele-counseling service to assist students, said campus spokesperson Kim MacLeod.

“By this fall, we plan to have three additional full-time mental health staff,” MacLeod told CNHI. “We are also focusing on preventative measures. We have instituted a mental health task force, mindfulness classes for academic credit, and even a meditation room that provides the necessary space to practice good mental health.”

She said the Oneonta college will be the first campus in the country to have access to mental health education modules developed by the American College Health Association, with input from a campus health educator, when the program launches in the coming week.

Liebman said the Mental Health Association supports legislation drafted by state Sen. Anna Kaplan, D-Long Island, that would require both the State University and City University systems to offer a mental health survey to all enrolled students.

The bill would also require the two taxpayer-funded higher education systems to develop a mental health committee and provide mental health training to all staff and faculty members.

The committee would also make recommendations for faculty members to provide mental health wellness days and excused absences from class for students. The university systems, under the bill, would also be required to review enrollment and re-enrollment policies as they apply to students who take extended mental health leaves.

The Mental Health Association said the demand for services at colleges has dramatically outstripped the capacity of existing mental health services offered at campuses.

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