Boise State University is committed to improving access and the success of students, faculty, staff; and innovating wherever possible. Those commitments mean it faces an important challenge when it comes to mental health issues. Most people face stress simply as a part of their everyday lives. Still, factors like academics, extracurricular activities, social and financial pressures, and other elements of college life can increase stress and potentially contribute to acute or chronic issues. Another aspect is that many more people experience early-life mental health interventions than in the past, meaning a larger share of the student and community population has been diagnosed with (and often treated for) a wide range of disorders and conditions before becoming Broncos.
Those challenges are not unique to Boise State, but the national numbers are sobering. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students. According to one study, nearly half of participating college students met the criteria for one or more substance use disorders. Among first-year students, the prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder is 8.3%. This year, as many as 44% of college students reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. During the fall 2020 semester at Boise State, the university recorded an average of one student suicide attempt per week.
In the past, many services available to students were tailored to crisis situations. More recently, those resources have pivoted to preventative models. Take Counseling Services, which Niece runs out of University Health Services. Crisis intervention is still a cornerstone of its mission, but as mental health awareness has increased, so has the mission of Counseling Services. Its offerings also include individual, couples and group counseling, and the GradWell program for graduate students. It also consults, conducts outreach, and serves online and distant students. It trains, develops partnerships on and off campus, and provides assessments and tools for everything from ADHD to substance abuse. The growth in programming has inspired practitioners and improved services, but with the growth has come challenges, and gifts to the Uncompensated Care Fund for uninsured mental health care are a powerful way to help.
“There are more expectations placed on the university than ever before. We’re not set up to meet those expectations right now, but instead of pushing back against them, we need to think about how we meet them, because those problems just aren’t going away” Niece said. “I hate to say it, but money is always going to move the needle when improving mental health for such a large population.”