MHW: College-Aged Adults Less Concerned About Mental Health Stigma

NYAPRS Note: According to the results of the recent Mental Health and Suicide Survey, college-aged adults are more likely to see a mental health professional, and to view getting help as a sign of strength, than older adults. This appears to indicate that stigma is less pervasive in younger generations, as more people are willing to say, “I need help.” Overall, 87% of young adults feel that mental and physical health are equally important, and 10% believe that mental health is actually more important.

The major concern among this group is accessibility. 46% of college-aged adults view mental health care as unaffordable to most people, and 33% view it as generally inaccessible. We believe that issues with accessibility will be improved as we continue to expand community-based services that provide evidence-based interventions.


College-Aged Adults Less Concerned About Mental Health Stigma

Mental Health Weekly January 18, 2016


College-aged adults (18–25) are more likely to visit a mental health professional compared to older adults (18 percent vs. 11 percent), and more likely to view seeing a mental health professional as a sign of strength compared to older adults (60 percent vs. 35 percent), according to an online survey conducted by Harris Poll.


The Mental Health and Suicide Survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention between August 10 and August 12, 2015, among 2,020 adults over 18. The responses are filtered for college-aged adults (18 to 25) compared with the responses of older adult survey participants (26+).


The survey found that college-aged adults have more accepting views of mental health care than older adults, but they still see challenges when it comes to access care.


“What we’re seeing is less mental health stigma in the younger generations than we saw previously,” Anne Marie Albano, Ph.D., a board member of the ADAA and a child and adolescent psychologist. The cohort of college students entering college now have been hearing and talking about mental health more than previous generations. The Internet and social media are breaking down barriers for people and enabling many to talk about their own condition, she said.


“Colleges are much more open to providing services for youth,” she said. “They have always offered support in a variety of ways, such as mental health care and various types of accommodations for individuals with mental health.”


Notre Dame, for example, provides support counselors to go to the dormitories to meet with students experiencing anxiety or depression, she said. “They’ll work with them and help them adapt to college life, rather than them being sequestered in their rooms and potentially dropping out of college,” Albano said.


“Universities are being proactive in recognizing there are special needs associated with mental illness conditions,” she said. Results from the nationwide poll reveal that students are saying “I need help,” she said.


It’s also important that ADAA and other mental health organizations work hard to help parents understand to not be ashamed if their child has a mental illness, noted Albano. “We don’t want them to keep anxiety and depression [in their children] a secret,” she said.


Albano added that parents need to break through their own barriers and fear of what stigma is and recognize that there’s strength in seeking help. They should check on the resources that may be available at the colleges and universities. “Parents should not stand in the way of kids getting the help they need,” she said.


Albano said she was pleased that 60 percent of college-aged adults surveyed said seeking mental health showed a sign of strength. “That was music to my ears,” she said. “It’s saying that they recognize that doing something as opposed to doing nothing is beneficial.”


Survey Findings

Overall, more than two in five college-aged adults have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition by a doctor/health care professional, with common diagnoses being depression (33 percent) and anxiety disorder (27 percent).


While two in five adults have been diagnosed, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) admit that they have thought they may have had a mental health condition at some point. Nearly two in five (43 percent) presumed they had anxiety disorder, while half (50 percent) considered that they may have had depression.


These emerging adults overwhelmingly feel that mental health and physical health are equally important for their own health (87 percent), and one in 10 view mental health as more important than physical health.


Altogether, 46 percent of the younger adults view mental health care as something most people can’t afford, and 33 percent view it as inaccessible for most people.


Community Services Needed

“In communities where the millennial generation lives, we have to start figuring out ways for them to have access to services,” Albano said. The challenge is the need for more evidence-based services, Albano said.


“As mental health professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, we have to take on the goal of getting evidence-based practices and making them be standard to what our new professionals are learning in graduate school,” said Albano. “We have to make evidence-based practices widely available throughout the community.”


The state licensing board needs to require it, she said. Regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), therapists have to track outcomes and provide much more descriptive information about what they’re doing for patients with mental health issues, Albano said. “We have to get everybody on board and give people the best chance to recover from mental illness,” she said. “The ACA is about accountability as much as it is about increasing access to services.”