Similar staffing limits challenge campus counseling centers elsewhere in Maryland.

Staffing levels at Towson have remained steady, said Jaime Fenton, director of clinical services at the university's counseling center, with nine psychologists supported by doctoral interns and part-time psychiatrists.

The number of students receiving services has jumped, she said, but not nearly as much as it would if staffing levels weren't limiting the number of appointments that can be scheduled.

"We are doing our best to do more with less to meet the needs of our students," Fenton said.

Smaller campuses are seeing similar jumps in demand.

Donelda Cook, director of the counseling center at Loyola University Maryland, said her center has seen a 30 percent increase in student requests for counseling this fall compared with last.

Insufficient staffing "makes the work more frustrating, clearly," Cook said. She said online counseling software aimed at giving today's plugged-in students more options has been used nearly 2,700 times since November 2011.

There is no waiting list at the Johns Hopkins University, which has increased staffing and recently opened a new counseling center. But it can still take up to two weeks for a student to be seen, director Michael Mond said.

That's in part because students have their own scheduling conflicts. Increasing demand at the Homewood campus is also a factor.

Officials at Morgan State University did not provide the exact number of students seen at the campus counseling center per year, but center director Nina Hopkins said the number has risen in the past five years. Between 350 and 550 students have been seen each of the last five years, out of about 6,000 students enrolled, she said.

Center directors throughout the region say students who need emergency counseling can get it right away, regardless of waiting lists.

But students tend to downplay their symptoms, students and mental health professionals say, and won't always describe their needs as urgent, even if they are.

Students say they wish more attention were paid to the struggles thousands of their peers deal with on a regular basis.

Freund said the status quo is discouraging.

"It seems often the only way you can get help is if you have this very extreme situation," she said. "But mental health issues are so common and everyday, and it's frustrating that it's not treated as such."

The problem, Maryland sophomore Selena Roper said, is that the most common mental health struggles that students have are "insidiously boring" — and so don't attract the attention they deserve.

"It's not like you're sitting in the bathroom crying with dramatic music playing and your friends banging on the door saying, 'We want to help you!'" said Roper, 19, who has battled depression since she was a student at Broadneck High School in Annapolis. "It's more laying in bed watching Netflix all day."

Malmon, of Active Minds, said universities and colleges "like to come in after the fact when there's been a tragic incident and talk about how to prevent that tragic incident, but these are issues that impact many more people."

"If we did more on the early side, we wouldn't have to get to that tragic situation," she said.

Richard Kadison, co-author of the 2005 book "College of the Overwhelmed," said colleges are talking about student mental health — from discussions about their legal ability to remove troublesome students from campus to asking whether investments in mental health services will also improve their bottom lines.