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Student physical and mental health is a top concern for student affairs professionals and campus presidents. In fact, according to a survey by the American Council on Education, the top two issues facing university and college presidents were the mental health of students and the mental health of faculty and staff.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 94% of student affairs professionals believed that mental health was the most important issue on campus, and student well-being was a close second. Mental health visits have increased by 76% in public universities and 81% in private, non-profit universities, which indicates a clear need for mental health resources at higher education institutions.
In a survey of 172 college and university presidents conducted by Inside Higher Ed, student mental health topped the list of short-term concerns for 92% of respondents. In stark contrast, only 18% of presidents said they had implemented additional physical or mental health resources, and only 44% indicated plans for added resources in the future.
In light of how COVID-19 is impacting higher education, now is the time to move forward and make sure students have the resources they need to thrive. Higher education leaders have the responsibility to make sure that their institution offers mental health services that meet students where they are. As students learn how to get acclimated back on campus, it is crucial for them to feel supported and have access to the care they need.
The impact of mental health in college students
Student mental health is one of the most important issues that should be addressed by institutions of higher education. At the beginning of the pandemic when lockdowns were enforced, college students reported feeling depressed, anxious, stressed, and unmotivated.
The ongoing mental health crisis is likely to cause student retention and engagement to decline at colleges and universities. According to a Healthy Minds survey, students struggling with mental health are twice as likely to drop out. Schools have to show a true culture of care. Jan Hall, TimelyMD executive director of mental health, suggests creating strategies tailored to student populations who have been most affected.
Students of color
Students of color are the most disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Black and Asian American students also experienced trauma due to racial tensions rising during the pandemic. Although students of color have faced significant challenges this past year, they’re least likely to seek or have access to mental health care. For Latinx students, only ⅓ seek mental health care, which is higher than the 25% of Black students, and 22% of Asian students that seek care.
Compared to cisgender students, LGBTQ+ students have higher rates of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and depression. According to a national survey conducted by The Trevor Project, 70% of LGBTQ+ youth stated their mental health was poor during COVID-19. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ students wanted to seek counseling from a mental health professional but didn’t receive it. They were also impacted by food, housing, and basic needs insecurity at a higher rate than other populations.
First and second-year students
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some students attending 4-year universities have only experienced college virtually. This could potentially make the adjustment to a campus environment more difficult. In fact, 6 in 10 students said COVID-19 lowered their ability to participate in class and meet new people.
Community college students
Undergraduate enrollment at community colleges is at the lowest rates ever. Community colleges with a significant population of low-income, Black and Latino students have been the most affected by this. Due to job losses during the pandemic, thousands of community college students were forced to drop out or delay their education.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of stigma surrounding men seeking help stems from not wanting to appear weak or vulnerable. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the suicide rate among young men was nearly four times higher than young women. One in five men also reported not having a single person to talk to when struggling with mental health issues.
Student mental health is an issue that should continue to be addressed by higher education leaders both during and after the pandemic is under control. Schools must provide all students with accessible mental health services. Increasing awareness of mental health resources and services, counseling centers, and counseling services, makes it easier for students to reach out for help.
Accessible, 24/7 care improves campus well-being
What schools can plan in response to the mental health crisis
Students are experiencing significant mental health needs since the pandemic began. Despite this, college counseling centers only serve 12 percent of the student population on average and are struggling to meet rising demand. With an increased rate of students struggling and in need of mental health support, it’s crucial that colleges and universities are prepared with a plan.
The JED Foundation (JED) is a non-profit that works with higher education leaders to support individual schools’ mental health strategies. JED’s comprehensive model addresses four major areas as a public health approach:
- Promoting resilience and protective factors (promoting life skills and social connectedness)
- Encouraging early intervention practices (identifying at-risk students and supporting help-seeking behavior)
- Ensuring access to clinical services, including mental health support, substance use services, and crisis management procedures
- Implementing environmental safety and means restriction (restricting access to potentially lethal means domain)
There must be a campus-wide commitment to proactively address student mental health and wellness. An investment into mental health is also an investment in student success, learning, and development.
How can colleges and universities support student mental health?
Student success and retention can’t be obtained without a systematic and accessible approach to mental health and well-being. So how can institutions of higher education develop strategies to help empower college and university students?
1. Implement student voices into planning and strategizing
Students can offer institutions of higher education valuable insight into mental health services such as messaging, services, and programs. Leveraging student voices in the planning process will help counseling centers address relevant needs and identify the benefit of existing services. Additionally, integrating peer-to-peer programs and student-led outreach programs opens up a conversation to better understand and support needs, share similar experiences, and raise awareness for available mental health resources.
2. Develop a clear, comprehensive communication plan
Prospective students are more likely to choose a school based on how they handle mental health support, so it’s important to clearly communicate the available options. Raising awareness and promoting campus mental health services can be done in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Schools can inform students of available resources and services during orientation, post information on bulletin boards, or include it in email communications. Students no longer accept schools claiming they have a culture of care, they want to see it.
3. Assess the needs of diverse student populations to tailor mental health services
For colleges and universities to support students in diverse populations, they must first understand their needs, as well as provide representation in healthcare staff. Collecting data from diverse student populations through surveys, discussions, or student-led organizations will help identify any gaps in existing services. According to a report by the University of Michigan, schools can only eliminate barriers for these students if they implement services and programs that facilitate advocacy, equality, and equity for all students.
4. Utilize technology to support students on and off-campus
An American College Health Association (ACHA) survey found that less than half of colleges and universities were able to virtually treat students regardless of where they were living. Virtual and online mental health services, such as telehealth, increase access for students who experience mental illness or mental health concerns while off-campus. These services also help students who are reluctant to attend face-to-face counseling feel more comfortable. Using technology to provide mental health care serves as a reliable and cost-effective approach to meet students where they are.
Telehealth fills gaps in student care
College presidents, university presidents, and higher ed will face the challenge of addressing all student needs when they return to campus. On-campus counseling centers are beneficial but don’t have the same anytime, anywhere accessibility as online counseling services such as telehealth. Telehealth services can help bridge the gap between students and their well-being both mentally and physically.
TimelyMD helps colleges and universities eliminate barriers that students face when trying to get the help they need. With a customized telehealth program that meets the needs of the school, TimelyMD provides 24/7 access to high-quality care in all 50 states with no-cost visits for students. Focused on improving the health of student populations, TimelyMD’s campus-wide telehealth solution gives students one point of contact to access care and immediate treatment for medical or mental health concerns.
The health of your campus is directly related to the success of your students. When care is easy and accessible, colleges and universities empower students to take control of their wellness and mental health. Contact TimelyMD today to explore how a customized telehealth solution can help your students thrive.