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Stress U: Many college students struggle with mental health

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Some are battling anxiety and depression, including worries about paying bills and loans. Seli Fakorzi of TimelyCare, a telehealth company that works with colleges, talks about mental health on campus.

Millions of students are back on college campuses across the country, and many of them are struggling with concerns beyond grades.

College students are grappling with anxiety, depression and a host of other mental health challenges. Most college students (85%) say they have more stress, or at least as much stress, as they did last year, according to a survey by TimelyCare, a company providing mental health services via telehealth to colleges and universities. (The company was formerly known as TimelyMD.)

Students cite their mental health as their top source of stress, followed by their physical health, and their finances, including paying for college and student debt, says Seli Fakorzi, director of mental health operations at TimelyCare.

“There is a significant amount of stress and sleep deprivation among college students as they prepare for this fall semester,” Fakorzi tells Chief Healthcare Executive®. “So that's the most concerning piece. And also that mental health tends to be the primary reason why college students do drop out.”

The financial burdens of college weigh heavily on many students, and Fakorzi says those worries about paying bills and loans affect students’ mental health and their physical well-being, including their sleep cycle.

When the financial worries begin affecting students’ health, it’s easy for students to spiral into depression, Fakorzi says. (See part of our conversation with Seli Fakorzi. The story continues below.)

Colleges need to be paying attention to the mental health needs of students and ensure they have counseling services available for those who are struggling.

“Students are firm in their belief that there is an actual mental health crisis on college campuses,” Fakorzi says.

Hospitals and health systems say they are treating more young people for mental health emergencies. The number of mental health hospitalizations among teens and young adults more than doubled from 2016 to 2022, according to an analysis by Clarify Health.

Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and more than 100 other groups signed a letter asking President Biden to declare a national emergency due the youth mental health crisis.

TimelyCare is seeing more students with serious needs, Fakorzi says.

“I will say we have seen a marked increase in the level of acuity of students that we do see,” Fakorzi says. “And as I've surveyed casually talking to clinic directors across the country, they've also seen an increase in the level of acuity.”

TimelyCare providers regularly see students with suicidal ideation, and provides counseling to those individuals and, if necessary, will help coordinate transportation to a safe place for treatment.

Easy access to care

TimelyCare is focused solely on providing mental health and other healthcare services for college students. The company has partnered with more than 300 college campuses and has served more than 2 million students, and the firm has licensed providers in all 50 states.

For students with packed schedules, including classes, extracurricular activities such as sports or the arts, or those also working to pay the bills, telehealth offers students the chance to get mental health services on their terms.

“Connecting with students promptly and conveniently is really crucial to prevent further distress, and support their academic success,” Fakorzi says. “So no matter where they are, they can get the support that they need, and they don't have to worry about timeframes.”

Some students choose to access telehealth services in the evening and on weekends. Some even call to speak to counselors while they’re in bed, Fakorzi says.

“Being able to connect in a comfortable space, laying in bed, is extremely attractive to them,” she says. “So it gives them control over the process, not only the scheduling of it, but when, where and how I'm going to connect.”

For some students, the ease and comfort in getting mental health services virtually can help them stick with counseling.

Students aren’t stressed about traveling to appointments or squeezing a visit into a busy day.

“All of those factors do decrease the level of stress and concern around seeking mental health care,” Fakorzi says. “I always tell students, this process should not be stressful.”

“They don't have to be concerned about some of the other things that they would naturally have to be concerned about if they were seeking care in person,” she adds.

Students want help

While students are dealing with stress and anxiety, Fakorzi says it’s encouraging to see that a substantial number of young people realize they need help and are willing to get it.

“Despite their many challenges, they're very proactive in seeking emotional support, and attempting to manage their mental health,” Fakorzi says. “And they're looking for peer support, family support. They're exercising and using the most common coping mechanisms just to get themselves through. So that speaks to their level of ingenuity, and resourcefulness. They value accessible mental health resources, particularly virtual counseling, and teletherapy and teletherapy.”

More colleges are recognizing the need to ensure their students have access to counseling and mental health services, Fakorzi says. She’s also encouraged that more athletic departments are focusing on how to provide students with support.

“Students want the support,” Fakorzi says. “So two out of three, even in the survey, said that they plan to seek emotional support. Not only are they identifying that there is a mental health crisis, they're doing something about it for themselves.”

“They are actively seeking supportive, supportive guidance, and that's been a game changer,” she says.


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