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NAMI conducts survey of college students with mental illnesses

October 31, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently conducted a survey of college students in order to find out what it is like to live with a mental health condition while in school.  The questions were designed to get answers about whether the schools are meeting their needs and what improvements should be made in order to better support their academic experience. 

The types of mental illness that the respondents were diagnosed with were as follows:

·        Depression 27%

·        Bipolar disorder 24%

·        Other 12 % (The authors write that this category can include “borderline personality disorder, dysthymia, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizoaffective disorder and autism spectrum disorder.”)

·        Anxiety 11%

·        Schizophrenia 6%

·        PTSD 6%

·        ADHD 5%

·        Substance Abuse 1%


According to the survey, it was split 50/50 as to whether the students disclosed their mental health condition to their college. One respondent reported, “I was concerned that the information would become part of a permanent record that could be viewed negatively.  I still feel that there is a lot of stigma and the benefits of disclosing do not outweigh the risks.”

64% of respondents said that they are no longer attending college due to a mental health related reason.  Some of the things that they say may have helped them stay in school are:

·        “Receiving accommodations (e.g. tutoring, books on tape, lower course loads, help with communicating their needs to professors or online classes).

·        Accessing mental health services and supports on campus to help them address mental health issues impacting their academic performance.

·        Connecting with mental health providers earlier.

·        Having peer-run support groups available.

·        Getting assistance with medical bills and transportation.

·        Managing side of effects of medications.

·        Getting support from family and friends.”


The largest barriers that existed for these students to access to mental health services and supports were:

·        Stigma

·        Busy schedule

·        Hours of service

·        Lack of information

·        Long wait (39% of respondents had an appointment wait time of more than five days)

·        Mental health center is in a high traffic area and the students fear being seen by their peers

·        The center employs peers who they do not want knowing about their mental health issue

·        Excessive documentation is required to receive services


Some of the mental health crisis supports and services identified as critical by respondents are: 24-hour crisis hotlines; crisis response teams; on-campus referrals as well as off-campus referrals; post-crisis services and supports; substance abuse-free housing and understanding of substance abuse; inclusion of peers on crisis response teams; walk-in health center; and help with leave of absences and returning to school after an absence.

The top five reasons, according to the survey, that students found colleges supportive are:

·        “There are advocates on campus who help students understand their rights and access services and supports.

·        The school understands that college can be stressful and that mental health is a priority. The college educates faculty, staff, and students on mental health.

·        The college links with community mental health services and supports if there are not enough available on campus.

·        The college provides walk-in appointments, easy appointment scheduling, 24/7 care, unlimited counseling and support groups for students.

·        All students are aware that help is available.”


The survey was web-based and received 765 responses from August 2011 to November 2011.  Students eligible to participate in the survey were those diagnosed with a mental health condition who were currently or were enrolled in college within the past five years. 

The majority of respondents were white (82%), straight (78%), and female (82%).  The writers of the report note that “women are two times more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime” and that “depression is the highest represented mental health condition among survey respondents, which might help to explain the high percentage of women who responded to the survey when compared to men.”  

59% of respondents were current students and 71% attended a public or private college (versus a community college, online school, trade or specialty school).