General Education

5 Colleges That Prioritize Mental Health Counseling for Students

5 Colleges That Prioritize Mental Health Counseling for Students
Anxiety and depression are the two most common reasons that college students seek mental health services. Image from Unsplash
Isabelle Doyle profile
Isabelle Doyle November 15, 2019

Big life changes, high expectations, and evolving identities leave college students vulnerable to mental health crises.

Noodle Programs


Noodle Courses

Article continues here

Stress, at its most elemental, is the body's response to any change that requires an adjustment. That response varies in severity from person to person, and depends on both environmental and genetic factors; a person without a financial safety net is going to feel more stressed about finding employment than someone who has a trust fund.

When we experience stress, our bodies produce hormones that trigger our notorious fight-or-flight response which, these days, is less about fleeing a woolly mammoth and more about buckling down and completing an important project for work despite the fear that it will fail miserably. Flight might mean passing the project off to someone else, quitting your job, or hopping on a saber-tooth cat to outrun a mastodon.

Because stress is triggered by big life changes, increased workloads, moving, and shifting relationships, university students experience a veritable melting pot of pressures as they continue their educations. While stress responses can often be positive (tell that to the back teeth I've ground down into stubs) and push us to complete challenging tasks, when stress is excessive and our stress response is activated constantly, our bodies adjust to a permanent state of fight-or-flight. The result is physical and emotional exhaustion, and sometimes even symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In fact, anxiety and depression are the two most common reasons that college students seek mental health services. In 2017, over 18 million students were enrolled in college in the U.S., and about three out of four of those 18 million have experienced a sense of "overwhelming anxiety" at some point, while around 30% have experienced overwhelming anxiety at some point within the last two weeks.

If you're prone to stress, anxiety, or depression, you're probably hoping to attend a college that takes mental health seriously and has systems in place to support students not just academically, but psychologically. Here's a round-up of five schools with exceptional mental health services and programs—because when the sky is falling, you're going to need shelter.

Colby College

The Garrison-Foster Health Center provides Colby students with preventative services, healthcare, health education, and opportunities for experiential learning—and services are free for all Colby students. Students can also turn to Colby's Student Health on Campus organization, or SHOC, which holds creative, interactive workshops on stress reduction, sexual health, and nutrition, in order to educate students on issues surrounding their comprehensive wellbeing. SHOC events, such as wellness seminars and "stressbuster" fairs, make the importance of mental health visible on campus and provide accessible resources to students who otherwise might not reach out to ask for support.

Carleton College

Administrators at Carleton College believe students' health and wellbeing are the backbones of their academic success. Their Student Health and Counseling Center (SHAC) offers light box therapy in the form of loaner lightboxes, which students can borrow for three weeks, free of charge. Light therapy is used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, non-seasonal depression, sleep disorders, and other conditions, and is often used in conjunction with other treatments such as antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. You sit or work near a lightbox, which is designed to mimic outdoor light, and the light impacts chemicals in your brain relating to mood and sleep, which can alleviate symptoms of depression. SHAC also offers other forms of therapy (in addition to traditional counseling) such as expressive art therapy, meditation, Koru mindfulness, and MindBodySpirit classes. There is no charge for medical and counseling visits to Carleton's SHAC center, as professional care is included in the college's comprehensive fee.

University of California - Los Angeles

The UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center is a high-powered unit dedicated to providing both healthcare and education of the highest quality to UCLA students. Their extensive and varied services include primary care, women's health care, physical therapy, disease prevention advice, immunizations, travel medicine, radiology, and a broad range of specialty clinics, all in one 40,000-square-foot building. The facility also includes the Ashe Mind-Body Clinic, where expert practitioners specialize in pain relief and comprehensive student health. Students are able to communicate with their primary care providers via secure electronic messaging, and can also call the Ashe Center's 24/7 Nurseline for advice.

To support students' mental health specifically, UCLA offers clinics such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which provides individual and group therapy, wellness skills groups, and psychiatric care, as well as 24/7 consultation for concerned students, faculty, and staff; Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE), which provides consultation, support, and advocacy for student survivors of stalking, dating/domestic violence, and sexual assault, as well as trauma-informed yoga classes; the UCLA Psychology Clinic, which provides diagnostic assessments and low-cost individual and group psychotherapy; and the Collegiate Recovery Program, which provides individual support and weekly group recovery meetings for students who are in recovery from substance use or other addictive behaviors.

Emory University

In 2008, Emory University asked students to begin paying a mental health and counseling fee, which today amounts to about $57 per semester. At the time, implementing a fee specifically for mental health services was unusual, but since 2008, the fee has raised awareness and revenue enabling Emory to improve student services and prevention-based programs on campus.

Emory's mental health services focus on engaging with the community and forming relationships that will help identify students at risk. This is accomplished partly through Mental Health @ Emory, an initiative that began in 2017 that works to create a more supportive campus environment and provide students with a sense of belonging. Mental Health @ Emory attempts to translate psychological principles into community-level interventions in order to foster self-reflection, critical thinking, and a greater sense of purpose among students. Emory's holistic approach to mental health focuses on identifying and countering toxic societal messages, raising awareness about resources available to students, and prompting conversations with students about the parts of their lives that are impacting their mental health.

Ithaca College

Alison Malmon founded Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group, when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, following the suicide of her older brother. Active Minds' purpose is to work towards a world where mental health is talked about as easily as physical health so that no person struggles alone. Their programs include Send Silence Packing, a suicide prevention exhibit; a speaker's bureau featuring professionals who provide mental health education; and the Healthy Campus Award, which honors colleges that prioritize mental health and wellbeing.

Active Minds now has chapters on over 500 campuses, and of those chapters, the one at Ithaca College is both the largest and the oldest. The Active Minds chapter at Ithaca College provides a safe space for students where they can discuss mental health issues and find community, as well as engage in campus awareness campaigns, advocacy, and outreach.

Ithaca holds student-run Speak Your Mind panels, which allow students to share their stories and their loved ones' stories, and also to visit classrooms and bring awareness to mental health issues. Ithaca also offers a service called Let's Talk, which offers informal, confidential consultations with counselors on campus. Let's Talk is not a substitute for formal counseling, but counselors can listen to specific problems, help students explore solutions, and provide students with information about other resources that Ithaca College can provide.

Questions or feedback? Email

Isabelle Doyle is a junior editor at Noodle. She recently graduated from Brown University with a degree in English Literature.


Noodle Courses


Noodle Programs