Strengthening mental health support for students

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As today’s students face alarming challenges in the field of mental health, the observance of Mental Health Awareness Month in May is an opportune time to start impactful conversations about the problem and its solutions.

In BestColleges’ 2022 College Student Mental Health Report, 46% of college students reported that their mental health status was fair or poor, while only 22% said their mental health was very good or excellent. More than half (51 percent) of students who took part in the survey said their mental health had deteriorated during their time on campus.

Additionally, according to a Healthy Minds study of 373 campuses, more than 60% of college students met criteria for at least one mental health challenge during the 2020-2021 school year. The survey also reveals that 83% of students said their struggles with mental health have negatively impacted their school performance, and that two-thirds of college students are struggling with loneliness and isolation – an all-time high that reflects the impact of the pandemic on students. .

While these challenges have been magnified in recent years by COVID-19, they are not new. A recent meta-analysis that tracked data from 345 studies conducted between 1979 and 2019, all using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, showed that each successive generation of young adults is lonelier than the last.

The anguish that so many students are experiencing calls us to act with urgency and compassion. It also requires that we find innovative approaches that reach more young people, can be implemented quickly and nimbly, and build a stronger support network for all those who interact with college-age youth.

It is precisely here that a paradigm of transformation exists. Several colleges and universities are on the right track in terms of looking for new ways to support students, building a stronger sense of belonging, and incorporating mental health and wellness into classrooms – and their approaches deserve wider adoption. For example, Dartmouth College has embarked on a four-year campaign to improve mental health on campus, an initiative that includes life skills development opportunities for undergraduates, fostering social connection and a 24 hour emergency advice line. hours per day.

Faculties understand that the magnitude of current needs warrants a public health response, as opposed to the more typical clinical approach. That is, we can no longer expect a clinical approach that relies only on weekly hour-long counseling sessions to effectively treat suffering. Instead, we need to look for opportunities to create mental health prevention and promotion programs, increase university community involvement, and change policies to better support students’ mental health.

Preventing mental illness and promoting mental health are important approaches that will benefit all students, regardless of current levels of distress. This programming involves psychoeducation, the sharing of active coping skills, and opening up avenues for fast and quick access to help. It also involves engaging with students to teach them daily activities that promote mental health, such as establishing strong, supportive relationships, being mindful of physical health, forming healthy eating and sleeping habits, and finding a supportive community. This generation of college students experienced a significant disruption in their social connections and relationship management skills. Focused opportunities for young people to build a sense of belonging, with structures to check in and follow up when students drop out, are essential.

Increasing university community involvement means that supporting students’ mental health becomes the focus and responsibility of all adults on campus, not just the remit of staff at the institution’s mental health center. Training for all staff on identifying signs and symptoms of distress and how to respond to students in times of crisis is essential. Training teachers to understand how emotional stress affects learning and how to integrate socio-emotional learning into academic teaching is another important strategy.

The Center for Behavioral Health, Equity and Leadership in Schools at William James College is a pioneer in training teachers to recognize these challenges, while incorporating wellness practices into the classroom curriculum. This does not mean that teachers will diagnose or administer treatment; rather, it indicates that they will have a greater understanding of the inextricable connection between emotions and learning and how they can better support students’ emotional and academic health.

The William James College paradigm can be replicated across the country. Ongoing training with faculty and staff on how to handle leave, how to intervene promptly when students are pulling away, and how best to support learning will lead to improved policies and procedures.

Additionally, colleges and universities can take a more proactive approach to preventing potential mental health crises before they occur. For example, the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University in 2021 co-created two first-of-its-kind handbooks – one for students, one for faculty and staff – with best practices for off-campus departures and absence policies. use a license productively. These tools can serve to help campuses formulate more effective policies before crises occur.

If academic institutions increasingly implement these innovative approaches and others, the outlook for student mental health across the country will be better for years to come.

Strengthening mental health support for students

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