Prioritizing inclusion, colleges diversify, coordinate mental health services

With 40 percent of college freshmen reporting that they feel “overwhelmed” by their responsibilities, administrators are redirecting resources to meet rising mental health needs. Education Dive reports how, even with funding and staff constraints, campuses are implementing creative, inclusive approaches to foster wellness.

Mental health challenges increasingly prevalent

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), students born after 1997 (Generation Z) are more likely than other generations to seek help for mental health, but one quarter report inadequately managing their stress, and three quarters wish they had more emotional support. And the problem appears to be getting worse: new preliminary findings from UC Berkeley indicate that “the number of 18- to 26-year-old students who report suffering from anxiety disorder has doubled since 2008, perhaps as a result of rising financial stress and increased time spent on digital devices.”

Creating tiered offerings to increase capacity

College mental health budgets, meanwhile, have declined amid state funding cuts, flagging enrollment, and lagging tuition revenue—making it even more difficult for institutions to meet the growing demand for counseling services. To take the strain off mental health treatment providers and decrease appointment wait time for high-risk students, colleges are investing in preventive measures that empower students experiencing less-acute challenges to ease their own stress.

For instance, many campuses now feature instructional sessions and spaces that support relaxation and self-care. And, to better reach students requiring additional intervention, colleges have paired these self-serve solutions with coordinated programming for at-risk populations.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion

Some schools are focusing on making mental health services more accessible to students of color, who experience stress from personal debt and housing instability at greater rates than their white peers. Further compounding the problem, students of color are half as likely as white students to seek mental health services for anxiety and depression, according to the JED Foundation.

New York-based Jefferson Community College has sought to make its resources more approachable by creating a Health and Wellness Center that brings together a variety of mental and physical health services into one building. According to the center’s director, students feel less stigma using the center because they are as likely to be “coming in for something as simple as a Band-Aid or an ice pack” as they are for the food pantry, SNAP guidance, and housing assistance.

Training other departments

To extend the reach of its programming, George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being collaborates with other units and departments to weave well-being initiatives into existing services. These have included a living-learning community that practices mindfulness and positive psychology, a day of gratitude, and resilience training.

Facilitating appropriate utilization of resources

University of South Florida, meanwhile, has improved utilization and coordination of its resources by merging three divisions of services into one Student Success unit overseeing a tiered system, called MWell4Success, addressing various degrees of student need. Tier one teaches every student mental health literacy; tier two offers in-person and Skype-based coaching for students with concerns like time management and relationship problems; tier three reserves counseling and therapy for students grappling with high-risk problems like eating disorders and self-harm.

In addition, the school offers meditation, yoga, and three relaxation areas where students can nap and relax away from digital devices. These relaxation areas, which have been used by more than 10,000 students, are housed in the same building as other mental health services in an effort to reduce stigma and barriers to entry.

Reducing wait time

At Vanderbilt University, students previously were waiting two weeks to be seen by overtaxed counselors. The university formed the Office of Student Care Coordination to give students one single point of contact—a case manager, who now conducts intake interviews, freeing up counselors to focus on other tasks. These efforts reduced the average wait time to see a counselor to two days.


The Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning

Georgetown University’s innovative program connects students’ academic studies and their broader life experiences, especially in the areas of well-being, flourishing, and mental health. Learn More

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