October 10th is World Mental Health Awareness Day, and Baylor organizations will be sponsoring multiple events and initiatives to promote mental health and mental health awareness.
In a recent interview, Dr. Randal W. Boldt, a Senior Associate Director and Senior Psychologist at the Counseling Center, discussed the mental health of college students nationally, where Baylor fits into the national picture, Mental Health Awareness Day, and mental health resources at Baylor. In his description of the national statistics, Dr. Boldt stated that psychologists and mental health professionals are “even thinking about [mental health] as a crisis for the college student population which would be the 18 to 24 range.”
He noted a shocking 625% increase in suicidal ideation since before the pandemic, “One statistic I saw said that in the last month 25% of college students reported having suicidal thoughts.” Before the pandemic, according to Dr. Boldt, “that same statistic was 4% of students.”
Other national statistics he shared were similarly troubling: “I saw some information from [the J Foundation] stating that 75% of college students are reporting moderate to severe psychological distress. … 68% are reporting reduced motivation and focus, which two things you need to be a college student. Another 58% have unmet social needs. Social needs are things like income, transportation, food security, employment, housing, and so on. If that larger population is struggling with those things, it impacts how you study and how you feel your mental health as well. … Another report from CDC data [showed that] nine out of ten college students think there’s a mental health crisis on campus right now.”
These statistics paint a bleak picture. The change, particularly in suicidal ideation, has been rapid, and the current statistics indicate that most college age individuals are suffering from mental health issues. Dr. Boldt attributed this to a variety of factors: “I think some of the reasons for it have been this kind of accumulation of things in the country including the covid pandemic, including the war in Ukraine, including our political polarization, rampant inflation and then, social isolation.”
Another potential factor according to Dr. Boldt is the “racial awakening in our country in the last few years and the civil unrest related to that.”
Cumulatively, these factors are likely to have “an impact on a population that then because of Covid has been … socially isolated over a prolonged period. Not having people to talk to as much and then all these things going on, you can see how it builds up.”
As struggles in mental health have continued to be de-stigmatized, it is also possible that self-reporting has changed. College students may be more comfortable discussing their own mental health, which would potentially overstate aggregate changes in mental health. When asked about this possibility, Dr. Boldt said, “it’s an insightful question that we’ve thought about a lot; and probably the two go hand in hand I would say.” He elaborated that while the effects of de-stigmatization are not well known, they are welcome, and that he hopes they will continue. “I think we’re very excited that there is has been some de-stigmatization.”
Regardless of de-stigmatization’s effect on polling, it is clear that mental health is a significant problem for college students nationally. When asked about how Baylor fares against this background, Dr. Boldt explained, “I think we’re seeing the same students. The concerns are pretty similar. We match the national data on the concerns that are coming in.” According to Dr. Boldt, “our counseling center last year saw a 30% increase in students seeking counseling services compared to the pre-pandemic year.” Given this increase, and that the national data reflects a “crisis,” the Baylor student population has also suffered from the pandemic. But Baylor has not been idle. In fact, the counseling center has launched numerous initiatives and has a variety of resources available for those struggling with mental health.
Soon, Baylor will be launching its mental health ally campaign. One can become an ally by attending outreach events or training on mental health awareness. Allies will be given t-shirts to show others that they can discuss mental health issues with them. Dr. Boldt highlighted the need for community solutions: “The ideal is that they don’t end up needing to come to counseling. They have support from a different platform.”
The increase in suicidal ideation also highlights the need for students to know how to help those dealing with suicidal thoughts. Dr. Boldt said, on behalf of the counseling center, “We would love for every student on campus, every faculty, every staff to be trained as a QPR Gatekeeper.” QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer, the three steps to help someone who might be suffering from suicidal thoughts. QPR Gatekeepers have received training from the QPR Institute on how to actively prevent suicidal behavior and help those at risk. Baylor offers training upon request.
Last October, Baylor launched its telehealth program with the company Academic Life Care. Dr. Boldt said the service is available “to every Baylor student 24/7, 365.” He emphasized that the company has “thousands of counselors available.” Regardless of the time or place, one can use the service to quickly access a mental health professional. One can also request help from professionals with specific cultural and religious backgrounds.
Baylor’s telehealth number, accessible during normal Health Clinic hours, is 254-710-1010. Outside those hours, one can access Baylor Telehealth by AcademicLiveCare Care Hub. QPR training can be requested at the email address email@example.com.