What Happens When College Students Disclose Mental Health Problems?

To disclose or not to disclose? For people with mental health conditions, it’s a common question.

On one hand, disclosing your mental health condition is a step toward obtaining accommodations or support in your everyday life. On the other hand, with disclosure comes the risk of running into mental health stigma.

A recently published study looks at experiences disclosing mental health conditions among a group of people with relatively high rates of mental health problems: college students.

One interesting finding of the study is that people’s experiences with disclosing mental health conditions seem to vary considerably based on who the disclosure is being made to.

The first, smaller survey that the authors of the study did included six students who had received official diagnoses and been granted accommodations by their universities. These students reported that their experiences disclosing mental health conditions to school staff were 100 percent positive.

When disclosing to faculty, however, their experiences were 52 percent positive and 40 percent negative. To peers, their experiences were more negative (54 percent) than positive (31 percent).

The second survey, of 66 students who did not all have official diagnoses, found that experiences were generally more positive disclosing mental health problems to peers than faculty.

What both these surveys highlight, though, is that there definitely seems to be room to improve the way college faculty are reacting to students who disclose mental health problems. Even in the survey that was more favorable to professors, only about half of students had positive interactions when telling faculty about their mental health diagnoses.

The good news is that this seems like an issue where progress can be made. Colleges should take note of these results and consider providing more training to faculty on how to respond to students disclosing mental health problems – especially since providing accommodations to these students is an unavoidable part of the job!

And faculty themselves should recognize the responsibilities they have in this position. They should be open to training in this area and reflect on whether they hold stigmatizing views about mental health that are getting in the way!