Student health centers are critical to student success. This is true on many levels. In recent years, we’ve seen data points like these:
- According to the National Alliance on Mental Health’s College Students Speak survey, 55% of college students or recent college students with mental illnesses used their campus health services. In that same study, 65% of survey respondents identified walk-in health centers as critical to their success.
- A 2010 study found that college health centers handle 1.2 primary care visits per every student eligible to utilize the college health center.
It may seem obvious to you that a student health center can play a key role in student success on a college campus. However, what is significantly less obvious to many students and parents is the seemingly ever-expanding functions of student health centers.
Student health centers certainly do more than ever. A 2013 article from Forbes discussed the following ways in which campus health aids students:
- Taking care of student physical health problems
- Counseling students with mental health needs and medications
- Assisting students with eating disorders and chronic health issues
- Promoting and coordinating access and participating in success plans for students with learning disorders or physical disabilities
- Campus safety practices and awareness, including shootings
- Leading campaigns against sexual assault and discrimination, including training and awareness functions
- Combating alcohol and drug abuse
- Suicide prevention
- STD prevention, testing and treatment
- Long-distance health practices for students traveling abroad
- Coordinating care both locally and regionally
- Promoting good health on campus
Campuses have been adding staff to increase their capacity. While these functions can be costly, the Forbes piece argues, the investment in student health is worth the cost:
Young adults are at a critical juncture in development. As they learn to manage their own health and health care with less parental oversight, they are forming habits that will affect well-being, learning, and personal and career fulfillment over a lifetime. That’s why many college health centers are actively engaged in fighting the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs and promoting good nutrition, sleep, and exercise… Going beyond providing medical and mental health care and shaping the environment through a comprehensive public health approach, including prevention and education, is complicated and difficult. But these innovations pay off in healthier and more successful students and, in the long term, a healthier adult population.
As Dr. Heather Munro Prescott argued in her book Student Bodies: The Influence of Student Health Services in American Society, the long-term effects of student health centers are vital influencers of college students. The preventive care aspect, in particular, of student health centers has the ability to modify student behavior post-college.
For parents, this information should encourage them to have a discussion with their student about utilizing campus health services (or a local provider) whenever needed. Although some students associate a stigma with using on-campus health services (particularly for mental health services), it is critical to emphasize that good health practices that students practice in college can greatly influence their behavior later. A small conversation that urges a smart approach to health now can easily pay much larger dividends later.