As the coronavirus pandemic lurches into its third year, colleges and universities are facing an increasingly harrowing epidemic of their own. Students are in a mental health crisis—and school administrations nationwide are struggling to identify effective ways to intervene. A staggering 83 percent of college students say mental health challenges affected their performance one day or more in the last month, and more than half of students say they wouldn’t know where to go if they or someone they knew needed professional help.
It’s clear the fear, isolation, and uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 have exacerbated mental health issues among college students, which were difficult enough to navigate before the world shut down. The state of mental health among young people has become so concerning, in fact, that in December 2021 U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy released a youth mental health advisory, citing a dramatic increase in “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” among young people.
“The challenges today’s generation of young people face are unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate,” Dr. Murthy wrote. “And the effect these challenges have had on their mental health is devastating.”
College students face huge amounts of pressure. They’re expected to balance demanding schedules, earn good grades, land competitive internships, and make new friends—all while trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do after graduation. For many, they’re also living away from home for the first time and lacking an immediate support system.
While less than half of college students who experience anxiety, depression, or feelings of hopelessness seek professional help, 70 percent of those who do say counseling services improved their academic performance. That’s why it’s so important for colleges and universities to connect with their student body and offer the mental health coverage they need.
Here are some ways your administration can address the mental health crisis on your campus and make a life-changing difference in the health and wellness of your students:
Identify Which Students Are at Risk
The death by suicide of Stanford University soccer goalkeeper Katie Meyer reignited a national conversation about the mental health of student athletes. They’re expected not only to perform at an elite level both in and out of the classroom, but also are often subjected to relentless public scrutiny. Like student athletes, international, first-generation, and minority-identifying students experience a higher level of stress and are at greater risk of suffering from (and not seeking help for) mental health challenges.
Make Mental Health Help Easy to Find
Once you’ve identified the student groups at greater risk of experiencing mental health issues, it's important to meet them where they are. Offering a range of both on-site and virtual counseling services can ensure students receive the help they need in the manner they want. Think about where they spend their time and where they feel most comfortable. You could also establish a targeted outreach line to connect with them in a convenient and approachable way.
Combat the Stigma
Confusion around where to find help isn’t the only thing keeping students from getting it. There’s also a historic stigma around mental health issues at play, which deepens the feelings of shame and loneliness that are often experienced alongside anxiety and depression. One way to combat this stigma is to be more vocal about it. Consider organizing special events or guest speakers on the topic of mental health to offer students the opportunity to connect with other people who have experienced or are experiencing similar challenges. You could also provide informational sessions in conjunction with regular student group gatherings, so students don’t have to go out of their way to find help.
Educate Your Population on Your Student Health Insurance Offerings
Cost is another barrier to students getting the help they need. Uninsured students or those on an out-of-network plan may avoid seeking mental health care due to cost. Yet, more than half of students opted out of their campus student health insurance plan. It’s important to discover what students want and need when it comes to healthcare coverage. At HUB|HORAN Campus Health, we can help you navigate the complexities of student insurance so you can provide valuable, accessible mental health care to students who need it.
Diversify Your Clinicians and Other Mental Health Staff
College campuses are becoming more racially diverse, with minority-identifying students making up more than 40 percent of student populations. But 70 percent of counseling center staff members identify as white or Caucasian. By making mental health clinics and counseling centers more racially diverse, you can better connect with and provide help to an at-risk student population.
Support the Clinicians You Have
Your clinicians can’t help your students if they aren’t happy themselves. Campus health clinicians tend to take on multiple roles and burn out. Ensure your mental health providers feel heard and support them with the resources they need to provide quality care to your students. Employees who feel valued are more likely to stay in their roles, ultimately building better trust and lasting relationships with those they serve.
When you prioritize your students’ mental health, they’ll feel empowered to do so, too. By establishing a comprehensive mental health program that enables students to get the help they need, you’ll improve their overall well-being and create a safer, more supportive environment for all students.
To get started, visit our Campus Health webpage to fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Phillip Arrington, Vice President of HUB|HORAN Campus Health, at PhillipA@horanassoc.com.