Top reasons students seek college counseling centers

Surveys describe current mental health concerns for students. Why are college counseling centers struggling to accommodate them?

Photo by Brandon Latham McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland, College Park // Photo by Brandon Latham

By Eleanor Greene/Matters of the Mind

Chances are that you could guess the No. 1 concern for students who visit college counseling centers. It’s the same one that the most students said they were diagnosed with in the last 12 months, according to the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment in 2014.

If you guessed anxiety, you’re right. But can you guess the top three concerns? What about the top 15? The 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors survey, polled counseling center directors at 380 colleges and universities across the country. Below are the top 15 concerns that brought students to counseling centers in 2012 and 2013. Titles of concerns are unchanged from those of the survey results.

  1.  Anxiety 46%
  2.  Depression 39%
  3.  Relationship issues 35%
  4.  Psychotropic medication 25%
  5.  Suicidal thoughts/behaviors 18%
  6.  Extensive treatment history 14%
  7.  Alcohol abuse 11%
  8.  Self-injury 10%
  9.  ADHD 8%
  10.  Drug abuse 8%
  11.  Learning disability 7%
  12.  Eating disorder 7%
  13.  Sexual/physical assault/acquaintance rape 7%
  14.  Oppression 5%
  15.  Being “stalked” 2%

More students, more severe diagnoses

94 percent of college counseling center directors surveyed reported growing numbers of students with severe psychological concerns


College students face mental health concerns in large numbers. The 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers collected information from 275 counseling center directors in institutions of higher learning. Nearly all directorsー 94 percentー reported that the numbers of students with severe psychological concerns continue to grow on their campuses. Below, a table shows what the top eight growing concerns are, and what percentage of directors reported an increase in those concerns from the previous year.

  1. 89% Anxiety disorders
  2. 69% Crises requiring immediate response
  3. 60% Psychiatric medication issues
  4. 58% Clinical depression
  5. 47% Learning disabilities
  6. 43% Sexual assault on campus
  7. 35% Self-injury issues (e.g. cutting to relieve anxiety)
  8. 34% Problems related to earlier sexual abuse

Self-Diagnosis by Students

Photo by Brandon Latham

Poster for a mental wellness event at the University of Maryland. // Photo by Brandon Latham

While the other two surveys came from counseling center directors, the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment asks students to report their own health and mental health behaviors. In 2014, nearly 80,000 students reported what they were diagnosed with or treated for in the previous 12 months. The table below includes the percentage (rounded to the nearest tenth) of students that reported each respective issue.

  1.  Anxiety 14.3%
  2.  Depression 12%
  3.  Panic attacks 6.7%
  4.  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 5.3%
  5.  Insomnia 4%
  6.  Other mental health condition 2.4%
  7.  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 2.3%
  8.  Other sleep disorder 2.1%
  9.  Bipolar Disorder 1.5%
  10.  Phobia 1.1%
  11.  Anorexia 1.1%
  12.  Substance abuse or addiction 1%
  13.  Bulimia 1%
  14.  Other addiction 0.5%
  15.  Schizophrenia 0.3%

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