What colleges can do to ease the on-campus mental health crisis

Young Americans are facing a mental health crisis — and many are not getting the support they need.

About three-quarters of college students rated their mental health as “good” prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, but nearly half (48%) said their overall mental health has deteriorated since the pandemic. after an exclusive wealth Survey of 1,000 college students conducted by The Harris Poll in June.

“Nobody can argue that COVID has made life more difficult for everyone, especially teenagers and young adults. I’m not sure we’ve given young adults enough credit for what they’ve been going through with COVID,” said Alison Malmon, executive director and founder of the mental health advocacy on campus Active Minds.

During these challenging times, many of the nation’s 16 million college students turn to their campus counseling services for help — only to encounter limited staffing, bureaucracy, service length restrictions and long wait times. While more than half of college students say they have been in therapy at some point, less than a third say they have used on-campus mental health resources assets Opinion poll.

But despite the obstacles colleges and universities face in providing comprehensive mental health resources, there are steps schools can take now to provide immediate assistance and help address the ongoing crisis at universities across the country mitigate.

Overall, most experts say that managing the crisis will likely require a multi-pronged approach: long-term training and the education of a new generation of therapists, more clinical and non-clinical resources, and a more holistic approach to mental well-being. Students and parents may also need to adjust their expectations.

“Colleges and universities are obviously really interested in academic rigor and graduates. But the world is not the same [post-pandemic]and therefore they need to change their perception of what a successful student is,” says Dr. Tia Dole, the executive director of The Steve Fund, a nonprofit focused on the mental health of young people of color.

Why is there a lack of quality services?

On the surface, most colleges and universities have little incentive to provide solid mental health resources. Universities are fundamentally corporations with many competing priorities. Apparently schools just have to provide education in exchange for the high tuition fees. But there is an implicit (and sometimes explicit) promise that these institutions will provide a safe and supportive environment for student enrollment.

It is also arguably in the best interest of the college and university to support its student body. Students are more likely to drop out and change schools if they have mental health problems. The latest data from Sallie Mae found that 14% of college students say mental health was the top reason they didn’t graduate. Other studies put this number at about a quarter of the students.

Yet despite all of the mental health issues that could jeopardize academic success and the overall health of students, there are few federal or state requirements that schools must provide a minimum level of mental health resources.

While nearly three-quarters of all college presidents last year identified student mental health as an urgent concern, substantive action has been slow to take place.

“Everyone recognizes that this is a big problem, and I think every campus struggles a bit with what are the best approaches to address it,” said Paula Johnson, president of Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

In many cases it is a question of resources. There just isn’t enough. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) Annual Report 2021, about 35% of colleges say they are limiting individual counseling sessions. And almost half of the university advice centers use a variant of the “Stepped Care” model, which initially offers students the most resource-saving treatment and only increases support when needed. This means that students often have to try self-directed solutions, workshops, and peer support groups before being given the opportunity to receive individual therapy sessions.

Steped Care seeks to ensure students receive the support they need while managing a college’s limited counseling resources. Most colleges employ only a few full-time counselors and therapists. About 65% do not have their own staff providing mental health services, according to CCMH results.

But the current offers at most universities often fall short. This type of crisis needs a national strategy to find workable solutions and set clear parameters, Johnson says. “There’s no agency that owns this problem — and it’s a problem,” she says. As a result, schools have wildly different standards and protocols, making navigation even more confusing for students (and their families).

The campus advice centers are also struggling with the nationwide shortage of skilled workers. “We need more and more clinicians than ever before. And we need to start inspiring people to pursue mental health careers at a young age,” said Brett Donnelly, vice president of business development for College Health at Mindpath Health, which provides in-person and virtual therapy and psychiatry to college students offers at seven locations in California and one in Minneapolis.

What can universities do now to alleviate the crisis?

Building this talent pipeline will take time. Instead, many experts see peer-to-peer mental health resources and even telemedicine as more immediate solutions to alleviate the crisis on campus.

There needs to be a little “declinicization” of the mental health field, argues Malmon. “It can’t just be mental health clinical staff addressing this issue,” she says, adding that peer-to-peer programs like Active Minds can often help provide support and encourage students to Get more actively involved in the campus community or student groups. And that sense of belonging can go a long way in maintaining students’ mental health.

Many new mental health startups are also eyeing this space. Spring Health was founded in 2016 and works with a number of universities. Most schools opt for unlimited access to the company’s digital or self-guided tools — including help finding the best care options and crisis counselors — as well as between six and 12 free sessions with a therapist or medication provider.

“I did my PhD at Yale University and saw firsthand how difficult it is for students to access mental health care,” said Adam Chekroud, co-founder and president of Spring Health wealth. “Most universities are simply not designed to adequately meet the demand for mental health services. And so instead there’s incredibly long wait times when people raise their hand and ask for assistance, and a lot of students just don’t care.”

These services can be expensive for colleges and universities, says Dr. Doug Hankes, licensed psychologist and executive director of college counseling and psychological services at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. And they’re not always worth the investment.

“Many counseling agencies and universities … have spent tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars on these third-party providers, and students haven’t used them,” Hankes says. Despite this, he says he has been evaluating options for the coming school year to provide greater access and a variety of options for students.

Winner of Active Minds’ 2022 Healthy Campus Award, Auburn takes a multidisciplinary approach to mental wellbeing that goes beyond the clinical services it provides. In Auburn, these include student mental health clubs and peer-to-peer support, a “Zen Cave” that offers a variety of stress management resources for students, such as a bunk room and light therapy for seasonal affective disorder, and a therapy dog ​​program dr Moose, Dr. Nessie and Dr. rooster Students are also entitled to up to 10 free individual therapy sessions per academic year.

Mental health interventions and prevention may also need to happen earlier – perhaps even in the classroom. Some high schools and colleges require students to take a health course, but mental health is rarely the focus. But empowering young adults with tools to help them overcome adversity and manage their stress sooner could help ease the pressure on college resources. It could also be a preventive step in college. Wellesley College includes a mental health curriculum in one of its first year writing courses.

Aside from direct support from colleges, parents and students should come to campus with realistic expectations, Hankes says. Families often expect to have the same level of resources they received through private care, Hankes says. That’s not always the case – and families may need to make alternative arrangements in advance.

“People are talking about mental health in a way that’s never been seen before,” says Malmon. But that means it’s now up to the “adults in the room” to take action and provide this generation with the tools needed to get mental health right.

“We all have mental health. We may not all have mental illness, but we all have mental health,” says Malmon. “And so what are we going to do to support each other and ourselves to improve our mental health and make sure those who need it… have access to it?” ”

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