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There is no doubt that higher education is facing a mental health crisis. A recent survey found that 50% of college students identified their mental health struggles as their top stressor in 2023. On top of this, 71% said they struggled with issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.
The Department of Education has certainly recognized the gravity of the situation. In 2022, it announced the awarding of $286 million across 48 states and territories to boost the training and hiring of mental health professionals in K12 and higher education.
However, while schools wait for the introduction and effects of this funding, help is needed now for college students across the country. Find out how to help college students with mental health issues in this blog, with 4 actionable strategies you can put in place to help alleviate mental health issues in college students.
The first step in any plan to help college students with mental health issues is raising awareness of the problem and ways to deal with it. Colleges should promote mental health awareness on campus by organizing workshops, seminars, and campaigns to educate students, faculty, and staff about mental health issues, their signs, and the resources that are available to them should they need it.
It’s also important to reduce the stigma around the topic. Colleges can do this by encouraging an open dialogue about mental health by organizing events, guest lectures, or panel discussions on mental health-related topics. By openly discussing mental health issues in college students, you can help reduce the stigma surrounding it and foster a more inclusive campus culture.
In many colleges, on-campus counseling services are available, staffed by qualified mental health professionals who provide individual and group sessions, as well as crisis interventions. While in-person support is crucial, many schools are struggling with long wait times for counselor meetings. In some cases, students have to wait weeks, and even months, for a counseling session.
To help tackle this issue, colleges can adopt live chat. This accessible, real-time channel gives students the option to get support from a chat agent, rather than booking a meeting. For one college in North America, meeting bookings dropped by 49% year-on-year after they launched Comm100 Live Chat.
With live chat, students can speak to agents via a computer or mobile, getting convenient and fast support whenever they need it. Importantly too, live chat still provides a personal, one-to-one quality as the conversation occurs in real-time, helping to put the student at ease and build a connection.
However, because live chat isn’t directly face-to-face, it also helps to break down barriers for students who may be uncomfortable speaking in-person, providing them with a safe space to share their emotions. The digital nature of live chat also helps students who don’t live on campus or struggle to find the time to visit during office hours.
Mental health issues in college students vary widely. While some need individual therapy, many others can benefit from group support or helpful resources. In light of this, rather than trying to provide every student with costly & time-consuming individual support, many colleges are now adopting a stepped-care model that provides varying levels of care and resources based on the severity and complexity of a student’s mental health needs.
As counseling psychologist Carla McCowan, PhD, director of the counseling center at the University of Illinois, explained:
“Early on, it was just about more, more, more clinicians. In the past few years, more centers are thinking creatively about how to meet the demand. Not every student needs individual therapy, but many need opportunities to increase their resilience, build new skills, and connect with one another.”
The goal of a stepped-care model is to ensure that students receive appropriate and timely support, while also managing the demand for mental health services within the college. You can learn more about the stepped-care model and how to help college students with mental health issues here.
When considering how to help college students with mental health issues, it’s important to bring staff & faculty into the conversation too. To begin, schools should offer training sessions to build foundational knowledge on the topic, including common mental health disorders, signs and symptoms, and the impact on students’ well-being and academic performance.
Staff should also be trained in how they should respond to students experiencing such issues, learning how to respond empathetically and recognizing warning signs. It’s also important to make sure that staff and faculty know what mental health resources are available on campus so that they can direct students to these resources and provide referrals when appropriate.
We hope that this blog has provided you with ideas on how to help students with mental health issues at your school and given you some inspiration to move forward on your strategies. If you’d like more information on how to help college students with mental health issues, there are many great resources available including this toolkit from UCL.