In the 2016-2017 school year, for the first time, Goucher administered a Healthy Minds Study, an annual web-based survey that specifically examines mental health and the use of mental health services on college campuses nationwide. 49% of Goucher survey respondents said that they had a previous diagnosis of a mental disorder, higher than the national average of 36%. Goucher students are also more likely to have anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation than students at other universities and small liberal arts colleges.
In the 2016-2017 school year, 54 institutions completed the survey. Goucher had a student response rate of 30%, which is higher than the national average of 23%. Healthy Minds also receives demographic information on the entire student body, which enables the college to see if the students who responded are demographically similar to those who didn’t respond. This ensures that the data is more likely to be representative of the entire student body, and not only of students who took the survey.
According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s sixth annual survey, anxiety and depression remain the top two mental health conditions experienced by college students across the country. The Healthy Minds Study results show that 37% of Goucher students screened positive for anxiety and 43% for depression. These percentages are high in comparison with national averages of 26% for anxiety and 31% for depression. At Goucher, 14% of students also screened positive for severe anxiety and 20% for major depression. This news may be unsurprising for many students. “I know a lot of people on campus that generally suffer from trauma…depression…anxiety is a huge one for a lot of people,” said Katie Monthie ’19.
The percentage of Goucher students who reported suicidal ideation and non-suicidal self-injury is also higher than the national average. 15% of students reported suicidal ideation, higher than the national average of 11%. Of schools surveyed, Goucher also has one of the highest percentages of students who have self-injured in the past year, with 38% of respondents reporting self-injury, compared to 21% nationally.
These statistics are spurring action by the administration, although, due to a lack of publicity around these initiatives, students may be largely unaware of the steps being taken. “[Administration] should be saying, ‘this is what we’re going to do to address it,’” said Olivia Gallegos-Siegel, ‘18. “I don’t see that happening. Maybe I’m out of the loop…but you would think that, with what has happened on this campus, there would be a more immediate response.”
Administering the Healthy Minds Study is part of a number of steps Goucher is taking to improve mental health services on campuses. In January 2017, Goucher formed a partnership with the JED Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to emotional health and suicide prevention for young adults. When the survey is administered again in 2019-2020, it will demonstrate whether or not there have been changes in the culture of the school and/or benefits from Goucher’s partnership with the JED Foundation.
According to Health Minds, Goucher students also rank low on The Flourishing Scale. This scale is used by the Healthy Minds Study to determine the percentage of students who are deemed to be “flourishing.” The scale is based on a summary measure of responses in eight categories, including relationships, optimism, purpose, and self-esteem. According to this scale, 32% of Goucher students met the criteria for “flourishing,” a lower percentage than the national average of 44%.
“My general perception of mental health for myself and my peers at Goucher is that I feel as though people often put their mental health second,” said Jacob Givelber, ‘19. “It’s usually done unintentionally and through no lack of effort on their part…It’s very easy I think to let life get you down and feel like you have nowhere to turn.”
Another section of the survey looks at how mental and emotional difficulties affect students’ academic performance. Of the survey respondents, 30% of students said that they had had 6 or more days in the past four weeks during which mental or emotional difficulties had hurt their academic performance. This is higher than the national average of 18% of students. Additionally, only 15% of Goucher students reported that they had had zero days in the last four weeks during which their academic performance was affected by their mental or emotional health, a significantly lower percentage than the national average of 26%.
Many Goucher students are, however, taking action regarding their mental health, and those that use the counseling services generally have positive things to say. According to internal statistics, in 2016-2017, the Goucher counseling services completed intakes with 354 individuals, which is roughly 25% of the student body. 1,349 individual counseling sessions occurred, and there were 97 crisis walk-in sessions, for an average of three a week while classes were in session. Of the 2017 graduating class, 45% of graduating seniors used counseling services at some point during their enrollment at Goucher.
“I’ve personally had a really good experience with counseling center,” said Monthie. “They technically say that they do have a policy you’re not supposed to go back-to-back semesters but I’ve done it. You just fill out a new form.” Director of Counseling Services Monica Neel confirms that there is no hard limit to the number of sessions that students can have, although the center does operate from a short-term treatment model.
In the Healthy Minds Study, students also reported high satisfaction with the counseling services. 87% of students reported having knowledge of mental health services on campus, 37% thought counseling was “very helpful” for mental health, compared to a national average of 31%. Student satisfaction with hours, scheduling and quality of therapists at the campus counseling center was all in the high 80% range.
The stigma surrounding mental health and mental health services is also relatively low at Goucher. In the Healthy Minds Study, only 38% of students reported perceived stigma, considerably less than the 47% nationally, and only 4% of students reported that they would think less of someone who received mental health treatment, compared with 6% nationally. “[At Goucher,] it’s pretty accepted to take a mental health day,” said Adina Karten, ’18.
The Healthy Minds survey also examines whether students use alternative routes to seek help for their mental and emotional health, such as talking to professors, academic advisors, or other staff. At Goucher, a high percentage (77%) of students reported participating in this kind of informal help-seeking. “I’ve really loved having a professor I can trust. This may not work for everyone, but I have a few professors I know that if something goes down, I can go talk to them,” said Monthie.
This statistic helps the counseling center to justify mental health-related trainings for faculty and non-clinical staff, which they refer to as “gatekeeper training.” Through this process, counselors train faculty and non-clinical staff in understanding warning signs and how to refer students to counseling services. “It’s a bigger bang for the buck,” said Monica Neel, Director of Student Counseling Services. “Whereas I can only work with one student who comes into my office, if I can train faculty…they have much farther reach than I do.”
Of students who had sought help through Goucher academic personnel, 95% of students found them to be “supportive,” or “very supportive,” greater than the national average of 91%.
While the counseling center has internal statistics on the students who use their services, the benefit of the Healthy Minds Study is that it creates a picture of all the students in the college, and not just the ones who are seeking out services. This allows the college to better target their outreach, create more effective programming, and to justify the increase of funding around these areas. “To some degree its important how we compare nationally, and to some degree it doesn’t matter, because we need to just be dealing with what’s happening in our campus community,” said Neel.
To read more about the initiatives emerging from the partnership with the JED Foundation, including the construction of a new, larger space for the Counseling Center, look for an article in the next issue of the Q. Future issues of the Q will also include more on student experiences and mental health resources on campus.
For more information about the JED Foundation, visit: https://www.jedcampus.org/our-approach/