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A History of Colleges’ Campus Care

By Saakya Peechara

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The beginning of any school year is stressful and brings with it many changes in a student’s life. The beginning of college, however, carries a host of changes that can compound the worries associated with any ordinary new school year. The start of college can mean a sudden increase in freedom, a wealth of classes to delve into and an influx of new friends and experiences.

With all these changes, students might be forced to prioritize certain aspects of their lives over others, and their health frequently falls low on the priority list. Staying up late, unhealthy eating habits and copious amounts of stress, among other lifestyle choices of college-aged students, can all contribute to physical and mental health issues.  

For example, according to the American Psychological Association, 41.6% of college students present with anxiety, and 73% of students living with a mental health condition experience a mental health crisis on campus.  These statistics underscore the importance of such campus health programs as the Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the University Health Center at the University of Georgia.    

Campus health programs were first established as a result of severe epidemics developing on college campuses.  The most well known fledgling campus health program is the one that began at Amherst College.  The program created at Amherst College by the doctor Edward Hitchcock Jr. is so widely known because it was the first structured college health program in the United States as well as one that was revolutionary for its time in the breadth and scope of the program’s concept.

Campus health programs were first established as a result of severe epidemics developing on college campuses.

The Amherst program was different from other health programs in its time period because, in addition to treatment for the sick, there was a routine of medical exams for new students, exercise and a course in hygiene, with an on-site physician. While the Amherst program was broad in scope and idea for its time, one thing it failed to address and incorporate into its services is the mental health of students.  

Mental health services were incorporated into campus health services due to the observation by Princeton advisors that many of the university’s students were withdrawing from school before the completion of their degrees. After identifying emotional and personality issues as the reason behind this, the first on-campus mental health service was created.

Princeton’s program was the pioneer for many more mental health services on college campuses across America. However, it would take several years to establish comprehensive mental health and counseling services due to the lack of properly trained mental health professionals available to work in the college setting.  

The growing number of college health programs across campuses across the country increased the interest in the development of a national organization focused on the health of college students. Thus, the American Student Health Association (ASHA), later known as the American College Health Association (ACHA), was formed. The organization and its annual meetings yielded many milestones for college health programs, including a set of basic standards for college health that encompassed “mental hygeine” services, and a proper ratio of students to psychiatrists and counselors.

The role of college health programs has increased since their conception, as have their services. Changing times, and an increase in knowledge and awareness of the impact of health on learning and success in academics, has urged college health programs to grow and offer many more services than they did before.

According to Forbes, one in four students enter college taking psychotropic drug, and many suffer from conditions such as ADHD, asthma, eating disorders and physical disabilities – all of which need monitoring from health and mental professionals. But, college health programs do much more than provide treatment and support for existing mental and physical conditions in students – they provide tools to help adolescents and young adults properly process the drastic changes associated with maturation and becoming independent.

According to Forbes, one in four students enter college taking psychotropic drug, and many suffer from conditions such as ADHD, asthma, eating disorders and physical disabilities

The National Association of School Psychologists defines mental health, not just as the absence of mental illness, but also the possession of skills necessary to cope with life’s challenges. The organization relays that research illustrates that students that receive adequate and proper social-emotional support and prevention services achieve greater academic success. These services are offered by college health and mental programs, and illustrate the significant role of college health programs in student life.

Social crises that have occurred on campus’ throughout the country also highlight the importance of the existence of college mental health programs.  Campus mental programs offer ideal services for students grappling with emotionally-charged issues, such as harassment, sexual violence and rape, and provide guidance to students and faculty concerning how to intervene during such sensitive situations.                  

College health programs, which began to solely address physical ailments of college students, evolved over time to encompass mental health needs of students.  Growing awareness of the importance of sound mental health led to an increase in the prominence of college health programs, and a continued emphasis on health education, awareness of student behavior and trends, as well as societal changes will further increase the quality of care campus health programs offer and prompt more students to take advantage of the services offered by campus health services.