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There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of most people in the past two years. As higher education enters its fifth semester during the pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of how the pandemic has affected the physical health of so many people, as well as their mental health. For college students specifically, the pandemic has upended their campus experiences. The uncertainty surrounding their education, as well as isolation from friends and family, has exacerbated a mental health crisis for college students that higher education leaders have witnessed over the last several years.
Though many students have shown resilience throughout the pandemic and are excited to be back on campus, many aspects play into the mental health of students and how they can safely navigate access to the support resources they need. Before the pandemic, college students already faced significant life changes. For many, this time of transition meant moving away from family; learning how to balance school, life, and work; and navigating how to access healthcare while away from home.
Since the pandemic began in early 2020, college students have more than ever on their proverbial plates. The political climate continues to intensify. The fight for social justice and women’s rights rages on. And most recently, the tragic deaths of 10 people at a Travis Scott concert in Houston, Texas touched the lives of many college students.
Beyond just getting an education, the collective trauma of a pandemic and the loss of campus experiences for two classes of incoming students has given college students a lot to deal with. This brings two questions to mind: How can higher education support college students with the help they need, and what does that support look like? To combat the mental health crisis on campuses around the country, the 24/7 access to care through telehealth is a great investment in the health and well-being of students.
Supporting mental health: More than just counselors
Most people learn the concept of supply and demand during their college years. And this teaching has never hit closer to home in higher education than with the supply and demand for collegiate counseling services during the pandemic. During the Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent forum on mental health in higher education, Gary Glass, director of counseling and career services at the Oxford College of Emory University, shared that when he joined the counseling world it was everyone’s dream job. However, similar to other healthcare fields during the pandemic, it has been tough to keep counselors on staff.
For many college students, mental health is at the forefront as they continue to navigate the constantly shifting world in a global pandemic. Now the narrative around mental health is shifting. According to Glass, counselors today feel like they can’t do enough for their students in mental health crises. This mindset has many counselors looking for alternative ways to help students outside of regular office hours.
Glass said that one of the things counselors say best supports students is to ensure that counselors aren’t the only ones that are on the campus able to care for students’ mental health. Faculty are vital to caring for students both in and out of the classroom, whether virtual or in-person. For students to be successful, faculty must be equipped with the knowledge and resources to support students. This isn’t to say that professors and other faculty members should be certified, trained mental health professionals. However, faculty should understand that mental health care can be something as simple as mentoring a student, offering office hours, and connecting regularly with students.
Mental health access can, and should, be 24/7/365
Though reports continue to highlight that stress, anxiety, and depression among college students is high, mental health crises don’t all look the same. Similarly, mental health support doesn’t always mean talking to a counselor or therapist in person. It can be as simple as taking time after a class to talk to a professor, meeting with a TA, journaling, or even logging into an app to connect with a behavioral health specialist.
Beyond the many barriers that keep students from getting the help they need, it’s commonly accepted that it can be difficult to talk with a mental health provider at the moment care is needed. Access to mental health should always be available because a mental health crisis can happen at any time. Institutions that partner with a strategic telehealth provider remove that barrier to care through on-demand emotional support.
Four reasons why telehealth and virtual health care options are critical for students
The need for virtual support services, such as emotional support, counseling, and therapy, continues to surge. The New York Times reported that the need for teletherapy will continue even after COVID-19. According to Seli Fakorzi, director of mental health operations for TimelyMD, nearly half of all healthcare-related meetings of students using the TimelyMD app are outside of the regular nine-to-five business hours.
Consider these four reasons why offering 24/7/365 telehealth virtual health care options are critical to student health and well-being:
1. Students choose when to see a provider
College students’ calendars are packed. By having telehealth as an option on campuses, students can work with their class and/or work schedule to still get the help that they need. It’s been reported that people in their 20s and 30s are going to therapy. In fact, 39% of Gen Zers and 37% of millennials are more likely to seek help for mental health. That’s why many colleges and universities are choosing to invest in virtual care resources that extend the reach of campus mental health services.
2. Eliminate wait times
When students wait days or weeks for a medical or mental health appointment, that is time wasted. The time spent waiting for an appointment can also translate into students not achieving their academic goals. Telehealth helps keep up with the demand for services and increases access to care. Telehealth can help decrease in-person patient volume and eliminate wait times, enabling on-campus resources to see higher acuity cases.
3. Remove cost barriers
For some students, the cost of care is too steep, which may mean that a student is forced to ignore medical or mental health issues. When colleges and universities partner with a telehealth provider like TimelyMD, care visits are at no cost to students. This no-cost access to high-quality healthcare gives students the support that they may not otherwise be able to get on their own.
4. Provide cost-effective, high-quality care
Budgets continue to get tighter in higher education. But bringing telehealth to your campus provides efficient, cost-effective access that optimizes existing healthcare resources to provide high-quality care for students when and where they need it. That means students have more pathways to care and campus is a place where they can thrive.