Commentary: Implications, Themes, and Next Steps

By Hall, Gordon C. Nagayama | Journal of College Counseling, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Commentary: Implications, Themes, and Next Steps


Hall, Gordon C. Nagayama, Journal of College Counseling


The author presents a commentary on a special issue of the Journal of College Counseling. The articles included in the issue describe the mental health needs and counseling center utilization patterns of the diverse population of college students. The establishment of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health has created the opportunity to study representative groups of diverse students that have previously been difficult to access. The articles in the special issue are focused on studies that offer important clues to mechanisms that will serve as a springboard for future research.

This special issue of the Journal of College Counseling is a landmark series of articles that elucidate the state of mental health in a large and diverse sample of college students. The data in these studies are from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a network of researchers and practitioners at approximately 150 counseling centers that have engaged in standardized data collection. Psychological symptoms assessed for all participants included depression, anxiety, eating concerns, alcohol use, hostility, family distress, social anxiety, and academic distress as assessed by the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms (CCAPS). Pilot data collection resulted in a sample of more than 27,000 students seeking counseling and a second sample of more than 18,000 students from the general college population, which allows the determination of the representativeness of the first sample. These large samples include relatively large subsamples of diverse groups of college students, including ethnic and sexual minorities, for whom mental health data are relatively limited.

The McAleavey, Castonguay, and Locke (2011; this issue) study is innovative because the large sample allows separate analyses of specific sexual minority groups, including those self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, asexual, and queer. A major finding reported in the McAleavey et al. study was that sexual minority students were more likely than heterosexual students to report the use of college counseling center services. This finding is encouraging in that sexual minority students appear to feel as comfortable as heterosexual students in using college counseling center services, if not more so. However, relatively high service utilization also may reflect greater levels of distress among sexual minority students. Indeed, relative to heterosexuals, each sexual minority group reported greater levels of distress on at least one psychological symptom on the CCAPS.

Another important finding in the McAleavey et al. (2011) study is that sexual minority groups had significantly greater levels of family distress than did heterosexuals. As McAleavey et al. noted, lack of family support was associated with increased psychological symptoms among persons with alternative sexual orientations. How are family issues optimally addressed in counseling? Although these issues might be directly addressed in counseling centers via family therapy, interventions beyond the context of counseling centers, including education and support from organizations such as Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, may be needed to facilitate parental acceptance of sexual minority children (Goldfried, 2001). Moreover, religious and cultural traditions in some communities may create particularly challenging barriers to parental or family acceptance of a sexual minority child. If family support of a sexual minority student is not possible, it may be important to help the student identify other sources of enduring social support, such as organizations for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) individuals or organizations that are GLBTQ friendly.

McAleavey et al. (2011) also found that lesbians had lower levels of eating concerns than did heterosexuals. This finding also was echoed by Nelson, Locke, and Castonguay (2011; this issue), whose findings are discussed in more detail later in this article. …

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