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There’s no question that mental health affects engagement, retention, academic performance, and graduation rates in higher education, with 41% of students currently enrolled in college saying they have considered dropping out in the past six months. This research from Gallup and Lumina Foundation found that the No. 1 reason students consider dropping out is emotional distress. Another survey found that 60% of college students reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition, with anxiety disorders and depression being the most common concerns. And 4 out of 5 (80%) students continue to say there is a mental health crisis on campuses across the country. As mental health concerns persist, how can colleges and universities best address students’ needs to improve student outcomes?
During a virtual forum on “A Holistic Approach to Campus Mental Health,” The Chronicle of Higher Education hosted a panel discussion on how colleges and universities can create a supportive campus culture that provides the infrastructure to care for the mental health of students, faculty, and staff.
Forum panelists included:
- Micky Sharma, Director of Office of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service, The Ohio State University
- Carlota Ocampo, Provost, Trinity Washington University
- Summer McGee, President, Salem College
- Marina Catallozzi, VP of Health and Wellness, Chief Health Officer, Barnard College
Kate Hidalgo Bellows, staff reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education, moderated the discussion on how higher education can respond to the mental health crisis on campus. During the discussion, the panelists identified three keys to supporting campus mental health: peer support programs, resources for faculty and staff, and a culture that supports and prioritizes mental health.
1. Peer support programs
Peer support programs extend the reach of mental health resources
Peers are often the first person that students go to when seeking support. A Mary Christie Institute and Born This Way Foundation survey of college students found that 1 in 5 students have relied on their peers for support. And, of the 80% who don’t use peer counseling, 62% are interested in using it. Similarly, a TimelyCare survey found that nearly two-thirds of students (63%) said that they turn to their peers for help first.
It’s no surprise that peers typically have a better understanding of a student’s struggles. This familiarity can reassure students that they’re not alone in their health and well-being journey while also helping to de-stigmatize seeking additional care from an institution’s counseling center, virtual care options, or community resources. As a result, peer support programs are becoming more common at colleges and universities across the country. The panelists discussed their schools’ peer support programs, including TrinityDARE at Trinity Washington University, The Wellness Spot at Barnard College, and the Wellness Coaching Program at Ohio State University.
Take a comprehensive approach to campus mental health care with peer support
Students who don’t have a strong support system often feel isolated, which is why a peer support initiative on college campuses can have a lasting impact on student health, well-being, and resilience. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brock Read spoke with TimelyCare’s Director of Mental Health Operations, Seli Fakorzi, to discuss virtual health and well-being for students and TimelyCare’s recent student mental health survey.
With greater acuity of mental health symptoms more prevalent than ever before, the number of students who need support for mental illness continues to increase. In fact, 78% of students are more stressed, depressed, or anxious now than they were this time last year. “We know from our research that peer support is the number one way that students are preferring to address their mental health issues,” said Fakorzi.
The numbers speak for themselves—peers play a significant role in helping manage stress and providing support for one another. The Peer Community in TimelyCare’s virtual health and well-being platform is a judgment-free space for students across the nation to seek support and validate their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This resource helps students navigate challenges and experiences, such as relationship issues, feelings of anxiety, and other common stressors.
“One reason we built Peer Community is because we wanted to reach those students that we call our silent sufferers,’’ said Fakorzi. These students are those who are not comfortable speaking to a professional immediately, but they may potentially look to their peers as the first step in getting the help they need. In fact, about half of students who have used Peer Community have not had a care provider visit in the last three months.
By providing students with a safe, inclusive space to take the first step in seeking mental health services, peer support programs are part of a comprehensive approach to care that includes peers, self-care tools, campus mental health resources, and additional solutions, such as virtual care options, to help fill gaps in care and improve resilience.
2. Resources for faculty and staff
Faculty and staff on the front lines of student mental health care
One part of the campus community that cannot be overlooked when it comes to mental health resources is faculty and staff, who are not only dealing with their own feelings of stress and burnout, but are also often on the front lines of student mental health. Research shows that 8 out of 10 professors had one-on-one conversations with students about mental health during the last 12 months.
“We certainly are seeing an increase in requests for students looking for resources and accommodations to support them as they are growing and grappling with this post-pandemic era, and I think that then in turn puts additional burdens and concerns on our facility and staff about how to best accommodate and support our students,” said McGee.
Yet, proper training may not be available, leaving faculty and staff unable to fully address these emotional issues. And this strain can put them at risk of burning out. Of the virtual forum’s attendees, 71% reported that burnout was high or very high among campus staff, and 60% reported burnout was high or very high among faculty.
“There should never be a situation where a faculty member feels alone where a student has come and reported something,” said Ocampo. “There should be a very clearly expressed communication plan that every faculty member should be trained on.”
Many TimelyCare partner campuses, including Virginia’s Community Colleges, William & Mary, and Virginia Tech have expanded TimelyCare access to include all faculty and staff. Additionally, all college and university partners can access a Faculty and Staff Support hotline to connect with members of the care team who can guide how to support students in distress and recommend how to connect them to the appropriate level of care.
Support students when they need it most
Meet the mental health needs of faculty and staff
It’s difficult to properly support students’ mental health when your mental health needs aren’t being supported. That’s why more schools are providing mental health resources for faculty and staff, in addition to students.
“I think of the campus as a whole institution. We’re taking care of the campus holistically when every member of the campus feels cared for,” said Ocampo. “Then, we can say that we’ve created an environment where people are comfortable.”
Many TimelyCare partner campuses, including Virginia’s Community Colleges, William & Mary, Virginia Tech and Itawamba Community College have expanded TimelyCare access to include all faculty and staff.
Salem College supports faculty and staff needs by providing more time for rest during the summer months, implementing “Summer Fridays Off.” And the institution is working to similarly adapt faculty and staff work schedules during the academic year.
At Ohio State, Sharma said campus leaders are looking at ways to improve the connection among faculty and staff. As schools shifted to remote studies during the pandemic, Zoom became the new “norm.” While it’s a quick and easy way to connect, “it eliminates the chit chat before and after [meetings], or the chit chat walking across campus,” said Sharma.
Catallozzi said that Barnard College is launching a needs assessment for students, faculty, and staff to identify needs that may have not yet been recognized. It’s crucial that higher education provides faculty and staff with the appropriate tools to support students’ mental health as well as their own.
3. A culture that supports and prioritizes mental health
Build a culture of mental health
Ocampo noted that higher education’s focus needs to be focused on supporting students, especially considering that students who are experiencing mental health challenges are twice as likely to drop out. “The best medicine is prevention,” said Ocampo.
Colleges and universities must create a culture of care that de-stigmatizes mental health and seeking care. This not only helps normalize seeking mental health care, but it allows higher education leaders to come together and determine how to best meet students’ needs.
“It’s all about creating a culture of ‘there’s no concern that’s too small,’” said McGee. This starts with leadership that understands that the mental health crisis on campus cannot be ignored, empowers faculty and staff with the resources they need, and invests in student health and well-being.
“The mental health crisis is here to stay, it’s not going to be one single event. We need to meet students where they are,” said Fakorzi. “We know that a team-based approach to care is going to ensure that students stay healthy and that they’re able to achieve their goals, and that there’s a team that’s built around them.”
Fakorzi highlighted that colleges and universities can address the campus mental health crisis by offering a full spectrum of interconnected student resources. This strategy includes services that complement existing campus health resources, such as virtual care options. And, Fakorzi reported that 75% of students that have used TimelyCare’s virtual care services report mental health improvement, including all of those who presented as a potential suicide risk.
TimelyCare, the leading virtual health and well-being provider for higher education, equips students, faculty, and staff with the tools necessary to empower themselves to achieve their wellness goals. Whether physical health care, mental health support, or self-care tools are needed, TimelyCare offers on-demand care and scheduled services delivered by a diverse, culturally competent provider network. Both on and off campus, students, faculty, and staff can get the care they need, whenever, wherever, and however they need it.
Interested in providing a complete virtual health and well-being solution for faculty, staff, and students? Contact TimelyCare to get a customized quote.