Hofstra University hosted a two-day conference in early December 2007 to explore the mental health needs of college students. This important and timely symposium attracted experts from colleges and universities across the region and from the Northeast, along with professional counseling staff from the university. However, very few mental health professionals in Nassau County were either aware of the event or invited to participate. According to a follow-up article in Newsday, several college experts said that they were concerned about the influx of troubled students and the increased pressure they place on college counseling services. Additionally, conference coordinators pointed to recent data that says 25 percent of students arrive on our college campuses take prescribed medication for a mental illness, as opposed to 7 percent 14 years ago.
Stony Brook University reports that the university has more than 200 students diagnosed with bipolar disorder attending classes. University counseling staff have reported that there's an increase in the number of people who are contacting their counseling centers before they come to the university to let them know that there are students on psychotropic medication and they will need counseling support. The officials gathered at Hofstra University emphasized the need for colleges to take a coordinated approach to educate faculty, staff and students about help that is available and about programs to assist students in avoiding some of the pitfalls of college life that could worsen their problems or create one.
Certainly, the mental health community on Long Island should applaud the efforts of Hofstra University to address this critical health issue facing our college campuses. I'm also confident that similar statistics would be found if we studied the incidence of mental illness within our high schools. The university is correct in calling for a coordinated effort to address the mental health needs on our college campuses. I do not believe that universities and colleges can effectively address this crisis without reaching out to the community-based mental health system for assistance.
Our community-based mental health system provides myriad professional services including clinical treatment, medication management, family support, psychoeducation, case management, and care coordination that might not be available on campus. In addition, the interdisciplinary approach to treatment available in our community-based system also lends itself to coordination with private practitioners such as psychiatrists, social workers and therapists involved with the student. If the numbers reported by Hofstra University are correct, and I don't have any reason to dispute the data, then we certainly do have a mental health crisis on our campuses. And it is a crisis that requires coordination between the university and our local community-based mental health system, which offers a significant supporting role to the many campus-based counseling programs.
An ongoing and proactive dialogue between our universities and the local mental health system is necessary to ensure that students with mental health concerns and their families have access to the most comprehensive and affordable types of treatment.
Mental illness is a serious public health concern all across the country that is not limited to our halls of higher learning. Statistics have shown that a majority of young people are often first diagnosed with mental illness in their 20s, while attending college. The pressures of college life, the demands of academia, perhaps living away from home and family for the first time, the temptations of partying on campus, and more, can have a serious impact on a student's mental health and ability to function on campus. The two-day conference at Hofstra University is an excellent beginning to reach across the campus to some of our excellent community-based mental health agencies to forge meaningful partnerships in order to address a very serious public health crisis that will not be going away anytime soon.