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After-hours mental health care is not something that colleges and universities can ignore or push aside—it’s a necessity. Research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) shows that suicides are more likely to occur between midnight and 4:00 a.m. Data from studying over 35,000 suicides confirmed a peak suicide rate over 16% between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. compared to the mean suicide rate per hour of roughly 2%. This is the question for higher education professionals: Is your after-hours mental health care providing the support that students need?
Of course, suicidal ideation is not the only mental health concern on the rise. Studies show that young adults are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, and substance abuse. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that mental health problems rose from August 2020 to February 2021, with some of the largest increases among people aged 18 to 29. The report found that about 57% of that age group said they had experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression within the last seven days. This was an increase from 49% at the beginning of the survey period.
TimelyCare’s internal data parallels broader findings of the rise of mental health concerns for college students. Student mental health visits on TimelyCare’s virtual health and well-being platform for students nearly quadrupled from August to October. Four out of 10 visits occurred after regular counseling center hours and/or business hours. During this time period, 92% of students seeking mental health care utilized scheduled therapeutic counseling or on-demand emotional support. The remaining 8% sought support through psychiatric care or health coaching.
What services do colleges and universities use to meet the 24/7 need?
Due to the increased demand for counseling and psychological services, higher education leaders are bolstering their crisis support and mental health resources. And given the wide range of student needs, the various living and learning situations, and the around-the-clock needs for physical and mental health services, many institutions are using technology in innovative ways to provide counseling, crisis intervention, and support services.
During the first two weeks of the fall semester’s classes, the leadership of Belmont University in Tennessee saw a 60% increase in the number of counseling appointments compared to the previous year. They offered students resources, including self-guided tools, educational and interactive modules, mindfulness journals, and progress trackers, to increase mental health access. Now, Belmont University is integrated with TimelyCare’s TimelyCare platform, to provide no-cost, virtual mental health and medical support that is accessible 24/7 to all Belmont students.
In Inside Higher Ed, Nicole Ruzek, director of counseling and psychological services at University of Virginia, said students were dealing with issues such as the impact of racial injustice, anxiety over the climate crisis, and the presidential election. In response, the institution gave students access to informational videos, mental health questionnaires, and interactive tools to improve health and well-being. To continue to build out its services, the university partnered with TimelyCare to integrate the virtual platform so students could have 24/7 access to one-on-one counseling, psychiatric services, and on-demand support with a health professional.
How to get started with a virtual health and well-being program
These college and university leaders decided to partner with TimelyCare to design their physical and mental health support programs. What does that process look like for an institution?
1. Campus assessment
Each TimelyCare partnership starts by evaluating your institution’s unique goals, pain points, and student population.
2. Program design
By working with your school and on-campus healthcare resources, TimelyCare identifies the program features that meet your students’ physical and mental health needs.
3. Student engagement
TimelyCare’s student marketing efforts enhance your existing campus healthcare promotions and are built to meet your program and institution needs.
4. Program launch
5. Expert support
With a dedicated client success team, TimelyCare evaluates program performance and offers recommendations that turn insight into action that improves the health and well-being of your campus.
This methodology for developing virtual health care programs is proven to help students. In fact, studies have found that teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Even before COVID-19, researchers from the Milbank Memorial Fund — a nonprofit health foundation — drew similar conclusions, also pointing out that telebehavioral health can cost less than in-person visits and reach more people.
The ways that virtual health care complements campus resources
Here is how virtual health care complements college and university resources and makes a positive impact on student health and well-being:
For campuses that already have healthcare services, virtual health and well-being services offer 24/7/365 access that extends beyond business hours. “With 24/7 access to mental health resources, students can still access a supportive, knowledgeable provider even when the counseling center is closed,” said Dr. Jan Hall, TimelyCare executive director of mental health. “At the end of the day, into the night, and even on weekends, students can receive emotional support for any need, including critical situations. The flexibility of virtual health care enables students to get support anytime and anywhere, which is particularly beneficial if the student is not on campus.
Discover how a virtual health and well-being program helps students thrive.
Continuity of care
Another side of seamless access to care is continuity of care, which enables a student to have a seamless experience whether seeing a virtual provider or an in-person provider on campus. Consistent, quality care, along with high-touch support and appropriate technology integration, make this possible. This type of support assists with health literacy and helps students follow through on care plans.
Manage patient volume
Virtual health care services accommodate surges in patient volume and enable health centers to handle an influx of patients by remotely accessing an expanded network of licensed, board-certified physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed counselors, and behavioral health specialists. If a student requires in-person care for healthcare needs, the virtual health provider can provide a referral to the appropriate facility or resource based on the institution’s protocols.
Virtual health services vary, but TimelyCare’s partnerships with higher education institutions enable students to access no-cost medical and mental health visits, which removes financial and/or insurance worries. This removes barriers to care like affordability and out-of-state or out-of-network provider issues.
As budgets get tighter in higher education, decision-makers have to move beyond simply cutting budgets to looking at efficiently and effectively allocating resources. Virtual health care provides efficient, cost-effective access that optimizes existing healthcare resources to provide care for students when and where they need it. And for the more than 20% of higher education institutions that do not offer health services, a virtual health and well-being platform can serve as the primary source of healthcare for students.
Each institution and student population has unique needs, but the benefits of virtual health care are clear for higher education. And, studies confirm college students are ready to use virtual health care as a mental health resource. In a survey of college students by TimelyCare, 75% of students said they’re open to utilizing telehealth to receive mental health care. And 20% of students shared that they “definitely would” consider using telehealth for mental health support. A case study reported that students consistently rated TimelyCare mental health providers highly, with on-demand emotional support providers rated on average 4.67/5.00 and scheduled counseling providers rated 5.00/5.00.
Care delivered virtually is fast, easy, and efficient. It eliminates wait times, reduces the stigma of seeking mental and medical care, and perhaps most importantly, is available the moment a student needs care. When students don’t have to wait days or weeks for a counseling center appointment, there is a positive effect on campus health and wellness. And the benefit extends to prospective students evaluating mental health services at schools as a differentiator.
Contact TimelyCare to learn how a virtual health and well-being platform can make a difference in the lives of your students.