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Starting a new chapter in life, particularly young adults living on their own for the first time at college, is not an easy feat — especially for students who had mental health struggles before coming to college. Data shows that one in four young adults between 18 and 24 have an undiagnosed mental illness, and more than 25% of college students have been diagnosed and treated by a professional in the past year.
Contrary to popular belief, college life is more than parties, making new friends, and trying new things. It’s also a period of significant change, with different challenges and responsibilities than students have in high school. College students face daily stressors and academic demands that could potentially exacerbate mental health issues if left ignored.
Utilizing counseling services can help combat adverse mental health and offer healthy ways to manage it. Students shouldn’t allow negative stigma surrounding therapy to stop them from seeking help if and when they need it. Managing mental health in college is essential to have a successful and enjoyable experience.
Why college students should utilize mental health services on and off-campus
Student mental health is a more significant issue on college campuses. As the pandemic has shown, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this growing problem facing college students. That’s why it’s important to make sure to let students know that there is no shame in seeking help with a problem, no matter the size.
Consider these nine things higher education leaders should know about therapy for college students:
1. A diagnosed mental illness isn’t the only reason to seek help
Just because a student hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean they can’t speak to a mental health professional or clinician. A report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) at Pennsylvania State University noted that counseling can help students manage everything from anxiety and depression to substance abuse, body image, and normal, everyday problems. Counseling provides necessary tools to address whatever a student is going through.
2. Therapy varies by person
There are several types of therapy used by psychiatrists based on the patient’s mental health care needs and their preferences. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat various disorders such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. This type of therapy identifies harmful thinking patterns and changes them with more positive, problem-solving thinking.
Other common types of psychotherapy are psychodynamic therapy, behavior therapy, humanistic therapy, and holistic therapy. Many therapists use a combination of these theories when coming up with a treatment plan. For a therapist to find the proper treatment, the student needs to share symptoms they’re experiencing.
3. Honesty is key
Students should remember that they won’t get all the answers they want or need from just a few therapy sessions. It takes time and patience. If a student is dishonest with their therapist, it will also prolong the therapy process.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that a person attending therapy should write a list before a session to discuss with their therapist. As time progresses, therapy will improve their mental health and overall wellness.
4. Therapists may need time to learn about the student
Therapists are only human and can make mistakes from time to time. The student and their therapist are both learning together. A therapist can only work with as much as a student decides to disclose. Students should discuss their thoughts and feelings openly with their therapist. This will give better insight into the students’ preferences and allow the therapist to provide a more personalized solution going forward.
5. A student may need to switch therapists
Trial and error are typical in therapy, especially when it comes to finding the right therapist. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), it should only take a few sessions to feel impacted by therapy. Students shouldn’t feel discouraged if they aren’t feeling a connection with their therapist. It’s more important for a student to keep trying until they find one that provides a treatment that works.
6. There doesn’t have to be a crisis to seek help
A terrible crisis isn’t the only reason to seek therapy. If daily stressors are becoming too overwhelming — like homesickness — a therapist can help. Anything from fighting with a friend to failing an exam is a good enough reason to seek support. A mental health professional can help a student find ways to problem solve effectively and provide better clarity on a situation.
7. Medication is a treatment plan option
Medication for mental health issues may be recommended. Medication can regulate chemical imbalances in the brain that allow people to function more comfortably in everyday life. A student speaking with a clinician to decide whether or not adding medication to a treatment plan could be beneficial for them.
8. Online therapy options can remove barriers to care
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the importance of accessible mental health services for students on or off-campus. Campus counseling centers are a great option, but they may not always be the most accessible for students who are not comfortable meeting face-to-face, or who experience a crisis outside of regular business hours.
Online therapy tools such as telehealth allow students to receive mental health care anywhere and feel comfortable. Like campus counseling centers, telehealth services can connect students with a mental health professional specializing in what they need, including substance abuse, eating disorders, and/or mental illness. Make sure to clearly communicate counseling services that your school offers and, if it isn’t already offered, consider telehealth to extend the reach of existing campus healthcare services.
9. Seeking help can empower students
Studies have shown that about 75% of people who receive psychotherapy (or talk therapy) treatment show benefits from it. However, mental health stigma is still an issue today and can lead to a person not seeking help. Dismissing the need for help can cause symptoms to worsen over time. Seeking help may seem daunting, but a student’s mental well-being will benefit significantly by learning how to cope and manage symptoms.
Create a culture of care and support on campus
Why higher education should invest in counseling services for students
Clearly, the demand for counseling services from college students has risen over the past several years. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors’ (AUCCCD) 2019 annual survey, nearly 90% of counseling center directors saw an increase in students seeking mental health services.
The first year of college is when symptoms of depression and anxiety commonly appear and have the highest chance of progressing. This means that higher education leaders, faculty, and staff play a huge role in the early prevention and treatment of mental health disorders in students.
Colleges and universities should consider these recommendations to address and prioritize student mental health:
1. Assess student needs
Diverse student populations such as LGBTQ+, BIPOC, international, first-generation, and low-income students experience greater mental health challenges, and more barriers to care. Listening to the voices of these students and their unique needs can help identify current gaps in campus services and how to address them effectively.
2. Enhance the accessibility of clinical services
During the pandemic, an increased number of college students experienced mental health struggles but couldn’t access on-campus counseling services. Hiring more clinicians is a helpful option, but it still doesn’t address the root of the issue — inaccessibility. Incorporating services such as telehealth allows students to access on-demand mental health care in addition to on-campus services.
3. Consider opportunities to integrate mental health promotion and prevention on campus
Investing in preventive and educational programs will help to lower mental health stigma on campus and create a more supportive environment. Suicide prevention, education and awareness programs, faculty and staff training, virtual services, and curriculum-based courses will provide students with valuable early prevention tools.
4. Set the tone regarding mental health on campus through proactive messaging, communication, and norm-setting
Don’t just say that your campus is a supportive and inclusive environment — show it. Provide students with messaging and tools that are educational and informative about student mental health. This will allow students to identify warning signs in themselves and their peers, which may help prevent and/or treat mental illness early.
The Collegiate Mental Health survey conducted by Pennsylvania State University found that demand for mental health services has grown five times more than higher education enrollment rates. Mental health is commonly overlooked as a significant factor when higher education leaders plan to address student retention and enrollment.
If a student is struggling with their mental health, it may affect them academically and increase the likelihood of dropping out or low GPA. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 64% of college students who dropped out did so because of mental illness and lack of mental health support.
By providing campus-wide resources and programs that address student mental health, it will not only improve student well-being but also enhance student persistence at colleges and universities. In addition to existing campus counseling services, virtual care such as telehealth can help meet the demand for more accessible mental health care.
How telehealth can help provide accessible care on campus
According to a University of Michigan survey, 60% of college students said the pandemic made it more difficult to access mental health care. The pandemic presented an issue for colleges and universities as many young adults experienced worsening mental health amid campus closures. Many schools solved this issue by providing students with more accessible virtual care services such as telehealth.
Telehealth delivers fast, easy, and efficient on-demand care to students seeking help. It also eliminates wait times experienced at counseling centers and reduces the stigma of seeking mental and health care by providing care wherever students feel most comfortable.
Focused on improving student mental health and wellness on campus, TimelyMD offers colleges and universities virtual mental health resources and services, including on-demand emotional support, psychiatry, and health coaching. TimelyMD’s total health and well-being solution is an extension of on-campus health services and student support to improve students’ mental and physical health. With 24/7/365 access to providers in all 50 states, TimelyMD helps you meet students where they are.
Contact TimelyMD to learn how mental and physical telehealth for colleges can make a difference in the lives of your students.