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It’s no secret that student mental health is a top concern for many in higher ed leadership. Research from TimelyMD has found that student stress and anxiety is high, and many parents are concerned about the mental health of their students. Another recent student survey discovered that 35% of undergraduate students screened positive for major depressive disorder. Additionally, suicidal ideation is on the rise for the age group (18-24) that includes college students, according to research by the CDC. Almost a quarter (23%) of college students indicated that they know someone with suicidal thoughts since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The same survey found that 5% of the students said they had attempted to die by suicide. Clearly, this is a critical moment for colleges and universities to pause and examine what steps are being taken and what could be added to support student mental health and suicide prevention.
What Schools Can Do Now
“Given the uncertainty and continuing stress for the college community, higher education leaders need to develop proactive plans to address mental health concerns like suicidal ideation,” said Dr. Jan Hall, Executive Director of Mental Health for TimelyMD.
1. Assess student needs.
According to JED, screening for depression, suicidal risk factors and suicidal ideation can be a part of every visit — not just mental health visits — for college health and counseling centers. This could take the form of questions asked by a provider or an intake survey before a visit starts. These questions help to gauge how a student is feeling, assess mental health concerns and determine the best course of support. College health and counseling centers can use this data to identify at-risk students, as well as what may be causing mental health distress on campus. Additionally, this data can be vital in making the case for additional investment in counseling and mental health services.
2. Create a comprehensive plan.
Suicide prevention for colleges and universities must address every aspect of suidical ideation — from student assessment and care, to follow up treatment and campus wellness, as well as education programs. Step one is student awareness of campus mental health resources, especially as recent data suggests that a majority of students (55%) don’t know where to go for mental health support. If a student has risk factors for suicide, it is essential that follow up care, information and resources are provided following a medical or mental health visit. Coordination between medical and mental health providers in these instances helps to ensure that no at-risk student is overlooked or missed.
Higher ed institutions can promote life skills, social connectedness and better mental health through campus wellness and education programs, such as:
- Suicide prevention training for students, faculty and staff to ensure they are able to support an individual in distress.
- Campus awareness campaigns to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health care, especially in critical situations. These types of campaigns help to develop a supportive community where students feel comfortable seeking mental health care.
- Prescription drop boxes for unused medications.
- Mental health services that are not only available on campus, but also 24/7/365 virtually to encourage students who may not feel comfortable with in-person counseling, or who may need after-hours care.
- Health coaching to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors to improve mental health.
If your campus does not have a comprehensive mental health program that addresses suicide prevention, JED offers a comprehensive approach and support for colleges and universities across the country.
“When creating a plan, it’s important that campuses make mental health resources easy to access, 24/7/365,” said Dr. Hall. “Students need to know where to get help before they need it. This includes on-campus counseling centers, phone numbers, websites or apps that the institution offers for support.”
3. Develop clear protocols.
In the event of a student in a critical situation, time is of the essence. This makes it essential that schools have clear protocols for a student who is in crisis or hospitalized. According to EDC, “protocols can help counselors, medical staff, and school leadership act quickly” and know what procedures to follow. This includes considerations for:
- Collaboration with external partners like hospitals for student care.
- Who to contact on campus in the event of an emergency.
- Processes for notifying family members of the situation.
- How to transport a student for medical or behavioral support.
- Procedure for involving campus security or local police, if necessary.
“TimelyMD’s mental health providers conduct a brief screening to determine if the student is in crisis — if the student is having suicidal and/or homicidal ideation and has intent and/or means to carry these ideas out,” said Dr. Hall. “In collaboration with the student, the provider matches the care to the level of concern expressed by the student. TimelyMD providers are trained to address critical situations and follow protocols put in place by our partner institutions.”
Colleges and universities must also consider protocols if a student dies by suicide. This postvention guide for campuses is a helpful resource to make sure a plan is in place.
Prioritize Student Mental Health
Suicide Prevention Month is a good time for schools to update policies and procedures as necessary, while evaluating what more could be done to support student mental health. Critical situations involving students can happen anytime and anywhere, which makes it imperative that students are informed about the resources available to them. Research published by the National Institutes of Health stated that “one out of every five suicides among college students occur the same day they are having a life crisis.” Students need resources that meet them where they are, in their moment of need. This is why access to 24/7/365 mental health resources like telehealth services can make a real impact in the lives of students. After-hours, virtual care brings mental health care directly to the student in just seconds.
“Telehealth enables students to have 24/7 access to care,” said Dr. Hall. “Programs like TimelyMD are an important piece of a comprehensive suicide prevention plan because telehealth provides easy access to emotional support when and where students need it.”
Contact TimelyMD to learn how on-demand mental health care can improve the health and wellness of your campus.