UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State Mental Health has released the results of its 2022 annual report examining factors associated with voluntary withdrawal during counseling services. The survey was deemed essential given the national undergraduate “dropout” rate (Comprehensive Higher Education Data System, 2020). The report concluded that the availability of comprehensive mental health support services on college campuses is critical to promoting student success.
“Our findings in this report suggest that college counseling centers across the country provide critical services that support an institution’s academic mission,” said Brett Schofield, executive director of the Center for University Mental Health. “When students improve during their treatment at the counseling center, they are more likely to stay in school.”
The report found several protective factors that reduced the risk of dropping out, including improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and general distress during service. Most notably, students were 51 percent less likely to drop out of school during treatment if they showed significant improvement in academic difficulties while simultaneously participating in extracurricular activities.
A number of variables were also found to increase a student’s risk of leaving college while receiving counseling services. Most importantly, freshman or first-year students who were identified as having high levels of current academic difficulty and a history of psychiatric hospitalization were 48 percent more likely to drop out during treatment.
“Our data show that a variety of factors — both mental health and non-mental health-related factors — influence the risk of dropping out of school while receiving counseling services,” Schofield said. “It is therefore imperative for institutions to assess and strengthen local provision of mental health, academic, social and cultural support services that ultimately support academic mission.”
This year’s report also describes ongoing mental health trends in college counseling centers, including:
While anxiety, stress and depression remained the most common problems identified by therapists, they all declined slightly in 2021-22. Trauma was significantly increased as assessed by clinicians.
Students’ self-reported symptoms of social anxiety surpassed generalized anxiety as the area of distress with the largest increase in 12 years. The social anxiety symptom that increased the most was the worry that “other people don’t like me.” Academic pressure has declined slightly, but remains significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. While all symptoms of academic stress were on the rise, problems staying motivated in the classroom increased the most.
Trauma history was the psychohistory item with the largest increase over the past 10 years. Emotional abuse and sexual violence in childhood are major traumatic events that cause this change.
Despite a steady decline over the past 10 years, the lifetime history of considering causing serious harm to others increased from 5.3% in 2020-21 to 5.7% in 2021-22.
The 2022 Annual Report by College Mental Health Centers gathered data from 180 college counseling centers, 190,907 unique college students seeking mental health treatment, 4,688 clinicians, and more than 1.2 million appointments for the 2021-22 academic year. This year marks the 14th year of the report.
Established in 2004, the University Mental Health Center is part of the Penn State Division of Student Affairs. It is an international hands-on research network that includes more than 750 US and international university advising centers. It gathers data through routine clinical practice to support the Center and contribute to future research on undergraduate mental health.