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Recent studies reveal that the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly significant on students preparing to transition into college. Most notably, 61% of teenagers said that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness. And 7 out of 10 teenagers reported that they struggle in some way with mental health challenges. Additionally, many said they experience excessive stress (45%) and depression (43%). As a consequence, this mental health crisis has changed the way students evaluate colleges and universities. Now, many young people are paying more attention to the campus mental health resources offered when deciding which school they will attend.
A recent survey of prospective college students found that 50% have changed their views on the importance of mental health support for students. Additionally, 60% of prospective students said that mental health services are a very important factor when selecting which school they will attend. Although 74% of students indicated that their opinions haven’t changed specifically because of COVID-19, the pandemic has clearly increased mental health awareness when it comes to enrollment.
Why higher education should invest in student mental health services
A December 2020 survey conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE), revealed that 68% of university presidents expressed that the mental health of their student population is one of their most pressing issues. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 58% of college presidents said they would hire additional staff members in counseling centers, if possible. Campus counseling centers are beneficial but not a one-size-fits-all solution to student mental health.
Consider these reasons that higher education should invest in campus mental health and student wellness:
1. Improve student academic performance
Mental health problems can impact the academic performance and success of a college student. Poor mental health contributes to lack of motivation and problems focusing which can lead to failing grades. Campus-wide mental health resources for students to seek support could be the key to their academic success. A national survey found that 66% of college students felt counseling services improved their academic performance.
2. Support student mental well-being
College is already a stressful environment for students, especially after a year-long pandemic. As students return to campus, there will be a wide variety mental health concerns that can’t be solved with traditional counseling alone. Active Minds found that 39% of students struggle with a significant mental health issue while in college. Providing students, faculty, and staff with proper tools on how to manage mental and emotional well-being will help create a supportive campus culture.
3. Promote suicide prevention
The Jed Foundation (JED) recommends a community-based model for protecting student emotional health and suicide prevention on campus. A number of students are returning to campus having lost a loved one from COVID-19 or still suffering from mental health challenges, such as depression, from the pandemic. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one out of 4 people aged between 18 and 24 considered suicide in the last 30 days. In times like these, it’s essential to have a campus that promotes suicide prevention and educates everyone on ways to help those who are struggling.
4. Increase student retention
Higher education will likely look very different in the years to come following COVID-19. According to the American Council of Education, enrollment is expected to decrease, which could greatly impact colleges and universities. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also found that 64% of young adults who dropped out of college dropped out due to mental illness. Data also shows that counseling services have a positive impact on retention. As measured by student self-reporting, 63% of students who received counseling stated that counseling services helped them stay in school. It’s crucial for higher education to prioritize student mental health. Otherwise, schools risk decreasing graduation rates, enrollment, and academic success.
As prospective students now place a higher priority on mental health services before they even set foot on campus, an investment in mental health can impact future enrollment, current student academic performance, and retention rates.
Supporting college mental health on and off campus
As campuses plan for future semesters, colleges and universities must take into account that the needs of students have changed since the start of COVID-19. A survey from Healthy Minds found that 60% of college undergraduates were having trouble accessing any type of mental health care.
College students now have a greater demand for mental health resources that are accessible on and off-campus. Although 43% of students still find in-person counseling centers important, 46% of students said virtual counseling is a useful mental health resource. Additionally, both the CDC and American College Health Association (AHCA) recommended that higher education find ways to offer both in-person and virtual counseling services to support student well-being.
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How college campuses can prepare for the needs of students
A recent op-ed published by Stanford Children’s Health, called for the well-being of children and young people to be at the forefront of the response to COVID-19. This quote from the op-ed highlights the importance and long-term effects of how students are supported in response to the challenges faced during the pandemic:
“Both the experiences our young people face now and the support they receive from us in coping with and navigating these challenges will have profound impacts on their abilities to be successful adults, parents, and citizens for years to come.”
The author recommends that these steps be taken to care for student mental health now and in the future:
- Promote stress management techniques.
- Increase awareness of online tools for support and community connection for mental health and well-being.
- Implement formal structures for mental health screening.
- Expand mental health services.
Additionally, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health shared how students have better access to treatment when mental health clinicians have a smaller caseload. To meet the mental health needs of students, schools must ensure that students can get care when and where they need it. Adding 24/7 telehealth services is one way to help reduce the caseloads of campus clinicians and expand access to care.
Higher education responding to the mental health crisis
As students make decisions about schools, they’re asking questions like, “How will the university care for not only my physical health, but my mental health?” Higher education must be ready to answer. With a majority of prospective students saying that mental health care resources are an important factor when choosing a school, higher education can no longer afford to ignore the demands and needs of students.
TimelyMD provides 24/7/365 on-demand and scheduled mental health support for students that provides care when and where they need it. Contact TimelyMD to learn how telehealth services can begin to make an impact on your campus today.