The accrediting agency for campus counseling centers recommends colleges have one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. But only eight of the 23 California State University campuses meet that standard, and some community colleges don't offer any counseling services at all.
Mental health advocates say on-campus care is especially important because it's those young adult years when many people first experience psychological problems.
A recent survey showed that over a five-year period, enrollment on campuses nationwide went up about 5%. As a result, "the demand by students for mental health services went up 30% in that same time period," said Felicia Mello, higher education reporter at CAL Matters who has been writing about this.
Depression and anxiety are some of the biggest issues that counselors say they're seeing amongst students. On California campuses, in particular, the need for these services is growing. As Mello explained, the reasons behind the increase can be three-fold.
Cost of living: "Students are dealing with increased living expenses. As the cost of living rises in the state overall, students are stressed out over whether they'll be able to afford meals or a place to stay."
Politics: "Another factor is the contentious political climate over the past couple of years. Students are reporting a lot of stress in that context."
Acceptance: "You see a little bit less of a stigma around seeking out mental health services. Students are more likely to be coming forward and saying, 'Yes, I have this problem. I need some help,' and so that might explain some of the increase in demand as well."
The lack of these services is in large part due to a decrease in funding. The CSU system is aware of it. When Mello spoke to the director of student wellness, Denise Bevly, Bevly said the strategy so far has been prevention. CSUs are focusing on early intervention with services like support groups, in an effort to curb students reaching a crisis point.
Likewise, there are legislative moves happening to address the problem. One bill, in particular, proposes that the International Association of Counseling Services' recommendation, to have one full-time campus counselor for every 1,500 students, should become a requirement. While several other bills are aiming to set aside resources for these types of services.