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University students with anxiety and depression are more likely to use substances, but less than half of them get treatment for mental health, according to a recent study, which reported that students who used drugs were more likely to access services, but on-campus healthcare can still be changed to better meet the needs of students.

 Mental health disorders and substance use were often intertwined.

  • Only 38% of university students with anxiety or depression accessed mental health treatment.
  • Students who used marijuana and other illicit substances were more likely to access treatment.
  • University services should become more accessible to improve treatment utilization in vulnerable students.

Alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, and other drug use is common among university students. Substance use, associated with higher engagement in health-risk behavior, can exacerbate anxiety and depression in university students. Likewise, symptoms of anxiety and depression often lead individuals to seek relief in illicit substances.

Underutilization of Campus Mental Health Services

Despite the rise in mental health disorders and substance use among university students, campus mental health services remain underutilized. Fewer than half of students with an identified need for mental health treatment accessed it at their school.

Effects of Different Types of Drug Use on Treatment Access

In a national sample of university students with generalized anxiety or major depression, the relationship between substance use and mental health service utilization was assessed. This large-scale study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, sought to address these issues in university students and determine how using different types of drugs may affect treatment utilization.

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Only 37.8% of students with anxiety or depression had accessed an on- or off-campus mental health service in the past year. Students who used stimulants, cocaine, opioids, ecstasy, or marijuana were more likely to have accessed services. Alcohol and tobacco users used mental health services similarly to non-drug users. The study showed that non-marijuana drug users reported a utilization rate of 3.2% within the past year, which is almost double that of marijuana users, at 1.7%. Additionally, non-marijuana drug users sought ED services for mental health needs almost three times more frequently than alcohol or tobacco users, at 1.1%, and non-users at 1.2%.

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment for University Students

The most significant barriers to treatment were not having enough time and preference for talking to friends. Students also noted financial reasons, not knowing where to go, and difficulty scheduling appointments as barriers.

On-campus healthcare is an underutilized entryway into mental health treatment. There is an unmet need amongst university students with anxiety and depression, and universities can close these barriers to meet the growing demands of their students.


Auty, S. G., Lipson, S. K., Stein, M. D., & Reif, S. (2022). Mental health service use in a national sample of college students with co-occurring depression or anxiety and substance use. Drug Alcohol Depend Rep, 2, 100025. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dadr.2022.100025