By, Amy Kohli
The latter half of the past decade has introduced everyone to the conversation of mental health with some alarming statistic about the increasing rates of adolescent mental illness. In most cases, in the form of a headline announcing uptakes in the ever-worsening threesome of pathological illness: anxiety, depression and ADHD. Why these three? The rise of cognitive and developmental disorder gives scrutiny to our current model of clinical healthcare, a new angle where questions are raised about how reachable these services are, who they’re really meant for, who ends up finding them reachable, who gets left out and why? College is a key developmental time; and the age of onset for lifetime mental health complications coincides with traditional college years. If adolescents are hesitant to do the help-seeking, finding out which part of this layer contributes to the “why?” is a conversation worth taking part in.
In a 2022 Fortune survey of 1,000 college students conducted by The Harris Poll, 60 percent of students reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition by a professional. Of those who had contributed to the survey, about 30 percent used services provided by their college or university. College students may hesitate to use these services because they feel underdeveloped, at the risk of severely limiting their range of options. Most full-time students live on or near their campus, occupied with overflowing class and extracurricular schedules – unable to locate an alternative that feels acquainted with their set of needs.
This is not made easier by the fact that access to wellness, clinical or nonclinical medical services is a system designed for adults, leaving adolescents knowing they’re in the right to seek out specialists, yet not knowing where the first place to look is. If you, especially as an adolescent, find yourself with impairments, limitations or abnormalities, it is generally your responsibility to have enough and more to cover the financial burden of any unexpected, even exploitative, expenses simply because private insurance and healthcare providers get to draft up their own policies with highly variable regulations between states. If this sounds overwhelming to you, you can seek coverage by applying for assistance from government-run programs like Medicaid – as long as you qualify for the program and aren’t seeking elective procedures.
Let’s say you’re insured, when the next step is seeking adequate health maintenance, you are likely to encounter barriers to achieving full access that make it far easier to scale down your needs instead. Your options typically fall under two categories: preventative, or condition-based treatment, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. While preventative treatment wins in terms of advantages, it doesn’t answer to the unexpected or the seemingly irrational. You are still expected to determine your own level of need well in advance, while erring on the side of caution to avoid wasting time, money and the emotional defeat of being more dissatisfied with your results than had you not taken charge of your health concerns in the first place.
While it may seem naive or even mythical, you can engage with the people you want to be engaged with. I recently spoke with Olivia Coletta, head of engagement at Caraway, a digital healthcare company, about the transformation of health maintenance pipe-dreams to real and inexpensive services built specifically for a demographic within the adolescent population: college age women+. If you’re reading this, chances are you identify as one, and you’ve entertained thoughts of seeking mental, physical or reproductive health facilities, but you’ve discarded them after concluding there’s nothing in your immediate reach you’d consider available to you. At Caraway, an integrated women+ focused telehealth app, Olivia explains that this problem is a fundamental one being addressed, with epithets like “Emotional needs don’t have to be a crisis,” and “Mental health is physical health.” A panel of doctors, nurses, and health advisors at Caraway are available around the clock for every corner of service, including stress management, health anxiety, sleep problems, sadness, grief, loneliness and evaluations of physical health from rashes to breathing problems. It’s true that college age women+ aren’t the only group of individuals experiencing mental and physical needs that can be better attended to, but college age women+ are the primary audience of this article. Our set of needs includes all of the above, along with an assembly of reproductive needs, especially during a post-roe world where these have spent the last few months being the victim of political gambits and endangerment. Olivia says that 38 percent of 18-25 year olds report not taking contraceptives because they cannot access them. If health care literacy is the source of hesitation for accessing mental, physical and reproductive services – easy to navigate services with built-in education and round the clock availability can play a part in lightening that burden. Birth control, birth control education, emergency contraception, counseling and education are all things we can learn to expect. Healthcare across the board has been scrutinized at every stage of its advancement – with barriers that seem to be carrying us backward in time. Healthcare will escape that scrutiny when even the most marginalized of the marginalized are prioritized. However, finding a support system that spotlights a high-need demographic will do well to establish a precedent that mental health and wellness no longer need to be reserved for emergencies.