(Reuters Health) - Campus mental health services at colleges and universities may not be accessible enough to lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning and queer (LGBQ) students, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that LGBQ students in California were more likely to need and use mental health services than their heterosexual peers, but they were also more likely to seek that help off-campus.
"There may be opportunities for college campuses to dig into this and see if there are things that they could be doing to make services more welcoming and available to LGBQ students," said senior author Dr. Bradley Stein, of the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh.
The findings are drawn from online survey data collected for the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) from 33,220 students at 33 colleges and universities in the state. All of the schools had formal on-campus mental health services.
"CalMHSA was particularly interested in . . . populations that may have different needs or greater needs," Stein told Reuters Health.
LGBQ people experience depression more often and report needing mental health services more often than heterosexuals, he and his colleagues note in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The researchers didn't include transgender students in the current study because of their unique mental health treatment issues.
Seven percent of the study participants identified as LGBQ.
Based on survey responses, about 26 percent of LGBQ students had serious psychological distress, such as feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, compared to about 18 percent of their heterosexual peers.
About 17 percent of LGBQ students were having academic problems due to severe mental health issues like stress and anxiety, compared to about 11 percent of heterosexual students.
Compared to heterosexuals, the LGBQ students were 87 percent more likely to use mental health services, and they were also more likely to use on-campus mental health services - but more of them also reported seeking mental health treatment off-campus.
When the researchers asked students what keeps them from using on-campus mental health services, LGBQ students were more likely than heterosexuals to report potential barriers, including concerns over confidentiality, embarrassment, costs and access.
Stein said previous research shows that merely providing mental health workers isn't enough. "You need to have the clinicians to provide the service, but I don’t think you can stop there," he said.
"We need to think about this all the way through, including how do we change the perception of these services being available, easy to use, accessible and meeting the needs of students," he said.
Previously, using data from the same survey, Stein and colleagues found that providing mental health services to students makes sense economically.
Investments made by CalMHSA to improve mental health services on California campuses likely led to 329 additional college graduates, they found. The additional graduates' lifetime earnings may result in a societal benefit of $56 million for each year of the organization's investment, they estimated.
"The difference it makes to the trajectory of their life is not only so important to them, it also returns investment to society," said Stein. "So, this could be a win-win."
SOURCE: bit.ly/2qGf6Ba Journal of Adolescent Health, online May 23, 2017.