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The ways in which we engage with those around us are shaped by our own unique lived experiences and identities. Now imagine those very characteristics that make us who we are inadvertently becoming obstacles to accessing health care.
It’s a reality experienced every day by historically underrepresented and marginalized college students. These barriers are a significant roadblock that impacts students’ academic and personal health outcomes.
Inclusive care delivery can help break down these barriers and provide students with the resources they need to thrive. By implementing actionable strategies and best practices, colleges and universities can create an environment that supports all students’ mental health and well-being. There has never been a greater need for inclusive care delivery that embraces diverse backgrounds, intersecting identities and lived experiences, and the time to course-correct is now.
As part of the TimelyCare GenZtressed webinar series, a panel of health equity, mental health, and student affairs leaders explored the need for and benefits of inclusive care delivery that embraces all students. Moderator Solome Tibebu, Founder and Host of the Behavioral Health Tech conference, was joined by Dr. Davida Haywood, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs at Johnson C. Smith University and Dr. Michelle Batista, Vice President of Student Services at Lake Tahoe Community College, to offer tips and strategies for inclusive care that drive student success.
Providing culturally sensitive care
Underrepresented students often face mental health disparities due to their identities. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these challenges, making it difficult for students to interact and socialize.
Western Colorado University student, Precious Allen, shares about the impact of having access to TimelyCare’s diverse network of care providers.
To address this issue, universities can create safe spaces for students to build communities with like-minded individuals. These spaces can help students find a sense of belonging and reaffirm their identities. By acknowledging and respecting the differences among students, universities can continue to support their mental health even after the pandemic.
“At a place like Johnson C. Smith University, it means – from the very beginning – we are championing, we are trumpeting that you are welcome here,” said Haywood. “However you show up, whatever lived experiences arrive with you, we can help you find a sense of community.”
Additionally, eliminating stigma on campus requires regular exposure to available resources in various formats and forums. For example:
- Co-sponsoring events with different departments and offices can help remove silos and bring students together.
- Using social media and providing swag like magnets, stickers, and keychains can help spread the message.
- Check-ins with students can be done verbally or through non-verbal cues like thumbs up or down.
- Inviting counselors to events and locations where students are can also help.
- Finally, offering various therapies like art, music, and meditation can give students a space to decompress and take a break from studying.
Haywood said equally important to putting an end to stigma and cultivating connections is assembling an expert team that is visible to students and is made up of individuals who look like and share similar experiences with students. Additionally, ensure the services, resources, and programming available to students are inclusive.
Diverse and inclusive health care is critical for student success
Creating an inclusive team and investing in resources to support them
As institutions strive to enhance student success, inclusive care emerges as a cornerstone. By embracing diverse identities and addressing mental health disparities, colleges and universities can create an environment that supports academic achievement and fosters holistic well-being.
Historically underrepresented groups, including racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities, often experience poor mental health outcomes due to a lack of access to high-quality mental health care services, poor representation among available providers, discrimination, and cultural stigma about emotional health.
Ellie Sturgis, Former Director of Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech, shares how partnering with TimelyCare enabled them to retain more of their campus counselors.
Campus staffing challenges
Despite best efforts and continual improvement, recruiting and retaining a diverse team of therapists representing students’ identities, backgrounds, and lived experiences has long been challenging for college counseling centers, in turn leading to significant issues with student retention. According to the latest data from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), the majority of college counseling center directors are white (59%) and female (70%).
As Batista noted, finding a solution requires commitment from institutional administration.
“Hire folks that are mirroring the demographic of your school, and I think depending where you are, that’s easier to do,” she said. “If you’re challenged in that, finding a program like TimelyCare that is also committed to offering a variety of counselors and therapists that have intersectional identities, that students get to choose who they see based on the provider profile, I think that’s been really helpful.”
As a TimelyCare partner school, Batista said Lake Tahoe Community College is well-equipped to meet the diverse needs of its students.
In keeping with its commitment to inclusion, TimelyCare’s diverse and culturally responsive provider network reflects and is proud to serve students who embody diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, age, religion and worldview, language, health, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and immigration status, and more.
More than half of TimelyCare’s mental health providers identify as people of color, and through TimelyCare’s partnership with Violet, all are trained in and inclusive of varying backgrounds and identities, including race, socioeconomic status, LGBTQIA+, gender, sexual orientation, different abilities, and the impacts of inequality in health care. In a recent report, Violet found that TimelyCare leads the industry in inclusive care delivery, benchmarking 10% more clinicians than the industry average.
The Lake Tahoe Community College team relied heavily on TimelyCare data to understand how their students identified themselves and when they were looking for support.
“It let us know how students were identifying gender-wise, ethnicity, who were the students tapping in, and when they were looking for support,” said Batista. “Being conscious of that really helped us identify where the needs were and also brainstorm and still try to figure out what can we offer on campus.”
Meaningful mental and emotional health conversations are encouraged in various areas, including athletics, band, fraternities, and sororities.
Supplementing after-hours support
As most campus counseling centers can attest, just because the doors close for the day does not mean mental health crises stop. By supplementing on-campus resources with a third-party virtual care provider, like TimelyCare, campuses can rest assured that students are taken care of 24/7 without the need for insurance, co-pays, long wait times, scheduling issues, transportation, and stigma.
Frances Keene, vice president for student affairs, at Virginia Tech shares how TimelyCare helps their school reach underrepresented and underserved students with 24/7 support.
Half of all TimelyCare visits happen after hours, on nights, and on weekends. On average, in less than five minutes, a student can connect with a TalkNow provider in the TimelyCare platform – less than the time it takes to walk across most campuses. TimelyCare partners can rest easy when they go home at night because TimelyCare is always there for students who need them the most.
Investing in the team beyond campus walls
Once the team is in place, Haywood encourages campus leadership to not forget those working on the frontlines of the college student mental health crisis.
“Had it not been for them during COVID, I don’t know what the institution would have done,” she said. “Those women and men were working around the clock. I’m not sure they’ve even caught their breath yet.”
To effectively support students, institutions must prioritize investing in resources for staff, including professional development opportunities. Checking in with staff and investing in their growth can help them tap into their talents and fill gaps. Ultimately, supporting staff in their career goals can benefit the institution and help them thrive.
“I just sent our director of health and wellness and our director of counseling to a professional development opportunity that wasn’t focused on health and wellness. It was focused on what’s next in my career?,” Haywood said. “I let them know I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader for that, and as opportunities become available, I’m going to put those in front of you.”
Haywood added, “Stay encouraged and continue the good fight, and do this incredible work. It is so needed. And you know, it pays off when that student comes back years later, and they thank you. That’s why we continue to do this work.”
COVID’s long-shadow on college students’ mental health
College and university students face unique challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Batista and Haywood have found that their students are dealing with similar issues.
“The top issues students are struggling with are anxiety and depression, familial issues, and financial issues,” said Batista. “And I think through all the juggling and balancing that they had to do during COVID, now it’s a shift of what does that look like now for me as a student trying to make ends meet, pay my bills, and still, feel healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
According to Haywood, students are also rethinking their purpose in life, a common thread among university students across the country.
Read more tips from the webinar featured in
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Student affairs leaders get real on counseling after COVID
Inside Higher Ed:
5 Strategies for Inclusive Mental Health Care
“You’re trying to help a student process this, but even as a practitioner, I’m not sure we learned any theory of how to deal with something so massive as this,” she said.
Though the graduating class of 2023 is the class that started back on campus in-person right after COVID, Haywood said the buck doesn’t stop here.
“In a couple of years, we’re going to inherit the students who were in middle school, in fifth grade,” she said. “You’re just trying to contemplate, ‘how do we recover from this,’ and still provide the resources that our students need. What does that look like in three, five, seven, ten years? It’s a lot.”
Tapping into a campus’s most critical resource – People
Taking the pulse of a college campus is a complex and challenging need that, if done well and followed through with action, will ultimately set up the entire campus community for success. Where is the best place to start? Talking to the very people who make up the community – students, faculty, and staff.
As numerous studies have shown, college students – especially Gen Z – are playing a critical role in breaking down the stigma of seeking mental health support by openly talking about their struggles and encouraging their peers to do the same.
Peer support is the #1 way students seek emotional support. A student might turn to a peer first for many reasons. They may not be comfortable seeking in-person support, perhaps they haven’t deemed their struggles “important enough” to seek professional help, or the student may just be looking for a peer they can identify with who has been through a similar situation.
Batista said some of the most extreme cases she’s seen have been brought to her attention thanks to a peer referral.
“A student’s friend said, ‘Hey, did you know that there’s counseling on campus?’, ‘Hey, do you want to come talk to the counselor or the VP?’” Batista said. “Consistently communicating with your campus that we have all of these resources, just know what they are so you can do a warm handoff with that student that you might come across.”
In support of greater student awareness around mental health, Batista said it is best to encourage and teach students how to converse with people who can empathize and understand, including their professors.
“The different drama and traumas that we experienced during COVID, it’s this re-learning of socializing with each other and communicating,” she said. “For students, it’s teaching them for the first time how to have that conversation with your professor if you’re struggling and what does that look like.”
On the flip side of that, Batista said it’s critical to arm your campus faculty and staff with knowledge and resources to respond.
Faculty and staff
While hearing directly from students is the best way to identify areas of greatest need on campus, it is equally important to tap into those faculty and staff who are working tirelessly on the frontlines – faculty, campus counseling center staff, for example – and lean into their expertise. They are the eyes and ears of a campus and are essential to gauging the health and well-being of the student body.
Batista and Haywood encouraged institutional leadership to provide consistent, proactive communications and training for colleagues so that they may feel mentally well to show up and pour into their students.
“If we really pause a moment and think about what those individuals have been through over the last couple of years, really and truly without them, perhaps some of our campuses would not have been able to function,” said Haywood. “Making sure that we’re constantly reaffirming and confirming the work that they do on our campus.”
To learn more about how TimelyCare can support your campus, click here.