Mental health services lead to healthy students, better retention rates

By Editor-in-Chief

As Columbia continues to implement the Strategic Plan and budgets are redistributed, one issue that should not go unnoticed is the college’s need to continue focusing attention on providing students proper access to mental health resources. 

Many new programs, as well as continuing ones, are being offered to students to de-stress and cope with mental health issues.

Even the college’s library hosted a “De-stress Fest,” including multiple visits in December  from therapy dogs to offer students a chance to destress in the midst of finals and the upcoming holidays. 

Students in need of help at the college can access resources at the office of Counseling Services, located within the 731 S. Plymouth Court Building on campus.

In November 2014, The Chronicle reported that Counseling Services served more than 1,000 students through more than 5,000 total appointments during the 2013–2014 academic year. At that time, students who went to the office used six of their 10 free yearly sessions on average.

Campus programs and prevention efforts may sound like one more bill to pay on the college’s part, but such initiatives benefit both the students and the college because students who receive adequate care are significantly more likely to graduate rather than leaving the college when they are overwhelmed by personal struggles.

According to a Dec. 10 RAND Corporation news release, public college students in California exhibited improved academic performance when they had greater access to mental health services at their colleges and universities.

Researchers for RAND, a nonprofit research organization, also said the improved access to mental health resources made it more possible for 329 at-risk students to graduate. 

“We know students with untreated mental health disorders do worse educationally, from lower grades to delayed graduation to dropping out,” said Bradley Stein, a senior scientist for RAND and one of the study’s authors. “By teaching faculty, staff and students to better identify and support those students struggling with mental health issues, and by changing the conversation about mental health on campuses, we can get more students into the mental health treatment they need.”

Columbia’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness reported that the retention rates for freshmen beginning attendance in the Fall 2012 Semester and graduated in the Spring 2015 Semester was 54.7 percent, with 1,989 students at the beginning of their enrollment and 1,088 at graduation.

While the college offers numerous resources to aid students who are struggling with their mental health, there needs to be improved communication of those efforts to better enable students to complete their studies uninterrupted.

Many professors bend over backwards to help students who they know are feeling overwhelmed, but there should be a clearer collegewide procedure on how to effectively help students who are in the midst of a crisis.

Many students don’t access help or bring their professors into the picture until substantial absences have been accumulated. Faculty should be proactive in alerting the Every Advantage for a Successful Education system whenever students have two consecutive unexplained absences.

As the college’s Strategic Plan implementation committees continue to assess how the college will evolve in the coming years, members of the college need clarification from Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden on how to handle these situations.

With the programs offered, a necessary next step needs to be taken toward educating students, staff and faculty and better communicating how students can rebound from mental health struggles.