An increasing number of college students are in need of help with their mental health. Around 12% of college students in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Additionally, as many as 7–9% of students suffer from depression. These numbers mean that a significant amount of students will need to reach out for support during their college years. However, college counseling centers are notoriously understaffed. There are often long wait times to be seen, inexperienced mental health professionals, and a limited amount of help that can be offered. But there might be a solution to help these overcrowded and underfunded centers: teletherapy.
Teletherapy is quickly becoming a popular option for students looking for support with their mental health. With access to mental health professionals 24/7 and typically less expensive fees, teletherapy can be a great alternative to a traditional college counseling center. Some college organizations are paving the way by providing these telemedicine options versus offering in-person visits. For example, the national sorority, Sigma Kappa, has recently partnered with Talkspace, a well-known online therapy service. The service has also already partnered with two fraternities, Alpha Tau Omega and Delta Tau Delta.
These organizations offer their members free access to Talkspace for three months. After that time, students can decide if they’d like to continue using the service and can pay for it on their own (although some insurance plans might still cover this type of therapy). Typical plans through Talkspace usually cost about $59 a week. These plans include video, audio, and text messaging communications with a licensed therapist, along with a monthly 30-minute live-chat session. Because in-person therapy can be costly (even with insurance coverage), students will pay way less than the standard fees of $75–$150 an hour for a session.
In a statement from Sigma Kappa, the organization wrote, “The collaboration brings a modern and student-friendly mental health solution to Sigma Kappa members across the nation as a new term starts, and in a time when anxiety and depression levels are on the rise among college students.”
Because suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, it is necessary that collegiate organizations start to provide better support to students that are struggling. Symptoms of depression and anxiety can be worsened by the many pressures of college life – everything from demanding classes and playing on a competitive sports team to conflict in relationships and the temptation of alcohol or drug use. It’s imperative that students have access to the health care they need to function and thrive in college. Without this vital help, students’ symptoms can worsen, even leading to them dropping out of school.
According to the American Psychological Association, access to counseling helps around 65% of students who used a counseling center to stay in school. But the structures in place now to help students are most likely not doing nearly enough. College counseling centers are notoriously underfunded, and there usually aren’t enough available mental health providers to meet with all of the students that need attention. And the need for students to get help is only increasing as the years go by. In fact, one study noted that in the past several years, there’s been a 30% increase in students needing mental health services. For example, one organization, the International Association of Counseling Services, recommends no more than 1,000 to 1,500 students per college counselor, when in reality, campuses typically have one counselor for every 1,737 students.
Talkspace, or other similar teletherapy services, can be significantly helpful to students. First off, there is still some stigma in our country when people are suffering from a mental illness. It can be incredibly intimidating to reach out and ask for help. Many people are concerned that their friends or family might think badly about them if they knew they were struggling. With teletherapy options, a student doesn’t even need to step foot in the counseling center. They can access a therapist from the comfort of their dorm room or home – without worrying about what other people will think about them. This can mean that more students can get help instead of staying silent in their suffering.
Second, students who are living on a tight budget can seek help for a low fee without having to worry about what will be covered by their student health care plan or their insurance. The flat fees provided by these services takes out all the guesswork of how much they’ll actually get charged for each session. Plus, services like Talkspace mean that students don’t have to stress about fitting in-person visits into their busy schedules of classes and work. These teletherapy options are much more convenient because the therapist and patient can communicate only when it’s manageable for the both of them.
One of the best aspects of using teletherapy for college students is that the counseling centers will be more available for students who are currently experiencing crisis situations. The centers will have more staff to deal with these type of emergency cases, and teletherapy options can provide aid for students who aren’t in life-threatening situations. Hopefully, as colleges begin to see the benefits of using teletherapy measures, they’ll start to provide their students with more access to mental health care services, resulting in more help for a greater number of students.