What’s Missing From Your Campus Mental Health Plan?

College students today use campus mental health counseling services more than any generation before them. A staggering 39% of college students experience a serious mental health issue, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.
Meanwhile, counseling center services are in high demand. Campus mental health treatment is often where institutions invest their resources first. Schools often build capacity through dedicating funding and growing staff for on-site counseling centers. If resources are off-campus, schools can develop partnerships with community providers.

Yet as counseling centers are seeing more students than ever before, fewer students are getting help compared to those who need it. In fact, two out of three students with anxiety or depression don’t seek treatment.

Adequate access to counseling center services is only one piece of the puzzle. As mental health concerns on college campuses increase, university leaders, decisionmakers, and mental health advocates are seeking ways to holistically support student wellbeing. Colleges that take a public health approach—including prevention, early intervention, treatment, maintenance, and postvention efforts—can address mental health from multiple angles.

In this post, we’ll explore some strategies for improving and optimizing mental health efforts in colleges, the people who should be involved, and specific ways to implement new programs that can be catalysts for change.

Strategies for Promoting Mental Health on College Campuses

Our friends at JED have outlined a comprehensive mental health framework that goes beyond treatment and looks at the emotional wellbeing of all students.

The pillars of this campus mental health framework are designed to decrease risk factors for mental health and suicide. These pillars are listed below, with corresponding questions college leaders can ask themselves in order to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement in their campus mental health efforts.

  • Develop life skills. Do we have programs in place that build life skills such as managing friendships/relationships, decisionmaking, and healthy living?
  • Promote social connectedness. Are we building community and social connection on campus?
  • Identify students at risk. Do faculty and staff, student leaders, and student peers have adequate training to know how to identify at-risk students and act appropriately?
  • Increase help-seeking behavior. Are we making efforts to reduce obstacles—such as lack of awareness, skepticism, and negative stigma—that are preventing students from getting the help they need?
  • Provide mental health and substance abuse services. Do we offer accessible, quality campus mental health care at hours that work with students’ schedules?
  • Follow crisis management procedure. Do we have well-publicized processes in place that include 24/7 phone or chat lines, local ERs, and campus counseling services?
  • Restrict access to potentially lethal means. Have we done a thorough environmental scan to limit students’ access to dangerous means?

Why a Comprehensive Mental Health Framework Matters

Before a student ends up at the counseling office, for example, ideally they feel part of a safe, connected campus environment. Maybe they were referred by a fellow student. Perhaps they did not sense stigma on campus as a barrier, encouraging them to meet with a counselor. Maybe a fellow student noticed signs in their friend that signaled that friend was at-risk. Together, these pillars contribute to a campus where students who are most at-risk get the support they need, sooner. When campus mental health needs are supported across this spectrum, it can lead to improved academic performance, student retention, and campus safety.

Fully supporting those needs takes more than treating students who choose to utilize campus counseling services. Providing services is just one piece of this framework. It also requires implementing strategic programming specifically designed to address all students—from prevention to postvention—in order to create real change.

Who’s Responsible for Student Mental Health?

The mental and emotional wellbeing of students is a campus-wide issue. Everyone on campus—the school’s president or chancellor, faculty and staff, and even the student population—has an important role to play. Unfortunately, many need more training on the knowledge and skills needed to create change.

In an APA study of 275 faculty members, 56% said they were “unsure” of how to work with students with psychiatric problems. Indeed, a Kognito survey found that 95% of over 14,000 faculty and staff agree that connecting students with mental health support services is part of their role. Yet only 34% felt adequately prepared to approach students to discuss their concern. This gap requires prioritization, so that entire college communities can start taking a proactive approach to improving their campus mental health climate.

How Can Colleges Address Campus Mental Health Outside of Counseling Centers?

In the past, most colleges and universities have given counseling centers the responsibility of tackling mental health programs. But it’s become clear that only reaching the small percentage of students who choose to walk into a counseling center for help is no longer adequate.

Here are some tips to guide your campus community in the right direction.

1. Do a self-assessment

Where does your campus stand? Identify the strengths of campus resources, as well as opportunities for improvement. The questions provided earlier in this post can be a great starting point.

2. Know your campus community

Every college campus is different. Different students, different resources, different enrollment sizes, different campus cultures. Keep all of these factors in mind when planning. What works for one college may not necessarily work for yours.

3. Take a public health approach

Make sure you have programs in place that address prevention, early intervention, treatment, maintenance, and postvention of campus mental health issues.

4. Implement campuswide training

Campuswide training can be an effective and efficient way to increase campus mental health literacy and build the capacity of the entire college community to recognize and respond to mental health risks.

Kognito’s role-play simulation trainings for higher education include topics that address many of the pillars in JED’s comprehensive mental health framework referenced above. These pillars include developing life skills, promoting social connectedness, identifying students at risk, and increasing help-seeking behavior.

Because Kognito’s trainings are research-proven and evidence-based, you can be confident they will make an impact. And because they are online, campuses can easily distribute simulation training to large groups, for completion at each individual’s convenience. For students, these trainings are often easily woven into existing orientation processes.

Want to learn how Kognito’s suite of higher education simulations can support your college’s mental health efforts? We’d love to partner with you in empowering your faculty, staff, and students lead real-life conversations that change lives. Learn more and contact us to access a free simulation demo.

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