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Mental healthcare is important at all stages of life, even for young children, kids, and teens. While most people don’t think about kids and teens struggling with issues like anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, it’s much more common than you might think, especially among students who are in high-pressure academic environments, regardless of their age.

In fact, around 65 percent of college students say that their mental health is “fair or poor.” Most of these students don’t believe that their schools are doing enough to help students improve their mental health, even though they want that support. What’s surprising about all of this is that just 15% of those with self-identified poor mental health attended counseling offered by their university.

So what explains the divide? Since most schools offer counseling of some kind, why do so few students attend these sessions? And why do they have a hard time talking with counselors overall?

Waitlist Issues & Soaring Demand for School Counselors

One issue that explains the frustrations students have with school counseling is that waitlists can be long. Students may have to wait weeks to see a counselor, whether they’re in college or middle school. With some counselors having more than 500 students on their caseload, counselors don’t have a minute to spare and struggle to keep up.

With a national average of 464 students per counselor, it’s clear that students aren’t getting the support they need. Getting budget approval and hiring counselors takes time and school districts are not keeping up with the pace needed to ensure that students get the support they need.

Colleges, too, are failing to help the students who need them the most. Many young adults are feeling the intense pressure of college as it becomes a necessary stepping stone to a career. This ultra-competitive environment is taking its toll and there aren’t enough counselors to keep up with students’ needs.

Demand is increasing for mental health services in schools at a rapid pace. Gradually increasing the number of counselors is not enough to ensure that students have everything they need to support their mental health.

Mental Health Screenings Can Help Students Get the Help They Need Faster

Talking to a counselor is helpful even without a diagnosis but mental health screenings can identify specific concerns and help students get the help they need faster. Many childhood mental health issues remain undiagnosed until adulthood, causing students to struggle more than they have to. Schools can improve the support they offer by conducting these screenings.

By diagnosing a child or adolescent, the counselor can come up with strategies for any academic and personal struggles the student may be going through. Understanding the underlying cause can be key for helping students understand and talk about their own mental health needs with a counselor. Early interventions can lead to better outcomes for students and are often more successful than they would be later on.

Students Need to Know: You Don’t Need to Be in Crisis to Speak With a Counselor 

One of the problems with getting students in to see a counselor is that many believe that their problems aren’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the counselor’s office. They think that unless they are in a true crisis, they should deal with their problems on their own.

Every student needs to know that this isn’t true! Counseling is not only great when someone is in a crisis or struggling, but also as a preventative and proactive step in maintaining mental health. Educators, mental health professionals, and parents need to be communicating with students regarding their ongoing mental health needs to ensure that they have the support they need to thrive.

Students May Fear that School/Campus Counseling Isn’t Affordable 

Because healthcare in the United States can be extremely expensive, many students worry about paying for counseling at school. The good news is that there often isn’t any additional cost associated with school counseling. Students need to know that they can seek help when they need it without being concerned about affordability.

How Schools Can Improve Access to Mental Health Services

Clearly, schools must do more as the need for mental health services among young people grows. They can help improve access to mental health services by engaging with the entire student body and not just those who actively seek help. Reaching out to students with emails, flyers, and check-ins can make counseling feel more approachable. Increasing counseling staff and emphasizing diversity are also important ways to improve access to mental health services. Students of all backgrounds should be able to access counseling services quickly and to feel as comfortable as possible in talking to a counselor. Their well-being depends on it!