University students represent an important population in which to study access to mental health care. Understanding their unmet needs will enhance efforts to prevent and treat mental disorders during a pivotal period in life.
To quantify mental health service use and estimate how various factors are associated with help-seeking and access in a university student population.
A Web-based survey was administered to a random sample of 2785 students attending a large, public university with a demographic profile similar to the national student population. Nonresponse bias was accounted for using administrative data and a nonrespondent survey.
Mental health was measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire screens for depressive and anxiety disorders. Mental health service utilization was measured as having received psychotropic medication or psychotherapy in the past year.
Of students with positive screens for depression or anxiety, the proportion who did not receive any services ranged from 37% to 84%, depending on the disorder. Predictors of not receiving services included a lack of perceived need, being unaware of services or insurance coverage, skepticism about treatment effectiveness, low socioeconomic background, and being Asian or Pacific Islander.
Even in an environment with universal access to free short-term psychotherapy and basic health services, most students with apparent mental disorders did not receive treatment. Initiatives to improve access to mental health care for students have the potential to produce substantial benefits in terms of mental health and related outcomes.