5 Ways to Support Mental Health at Your Higher Education Institution

In Brief:

  • May is Mental Health Awareness month and each year millions of Americans, including students in higher education, face the reality of living with a mental illness.

  • The pandemic has increased the need for mental health resources in higher education to be made more accessible to students both in-person and virtually.

  • With the passing of the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act, higher education institutions are now required to provide contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line, and a campus mental health center on student identification cards.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month and each year millions of Americans, including students in higher education, face the reality of living with a mental illness. According to HigherEducationToday, research on college students and their mental health shows three out of 10 students have struggled with depression, and over one in four have expressed issues with anxiety. Even more distressing is the one in 20 college students who had created a suicide plan in the past year. These findings are a major cause for concern for higher education administrators, faculty, and staff. So, what can be done to assist your students with their mental health concerns? Here are five ways to support your students’ mental health on campus:

#1 Create a Mental Health Task Force

Students are looking to their higher education institutions for help as they continue to struggle with the impact of the pandemic – from the social and economic consequences of closed campuses to remote learning and, in some cases, the illness or death of loved ones. As students’ mental health concerns continue to grow, many higher education institutions have responded to these concerns by creating a task force. This task force can identify areas of need and opportunities for change. They can survey students about the types of services students would like made available and can coordinate mental health efforts across campus.

#2 Appoint a Chief Wellness Officer

Recently, the University of West Georgia appointed the first Chief Wellness Officer in the Georgia system. This role offers assistance and resources for mental health, food insecurity, and financial instability to students, faculty, and staff. Though this administer-level position is becoming increasingly popular across higher education institutions, it doesn’t exist on many campuses. Institutions need to create a space for dedicated leadership overseeing a holistic, integrated approach to student well-being. eCampus News explains the Chief Wellness Officer can provide critical vision, bandwidth, and expertise to strategically align campus efforts, identify gaps in resources, assess progress, and adapt as needed.

#3 Train Faculty and Staff to Respond to Mental Health Concerns

If your campus is unable to create a Chief Wellness Officer position, a good alternative can be to provide training to help faculty and staff recognize and respond to mental health-related concerns. Psychiatric Times suggests the training should be convenient, without additional cost to the employee, and offered in virtual or online formats. Also, they suggest this training uses interactive educational techniques involving role play with common case scenarios seen in campus settings. Another alternative is to offer a peer support group which involves training faculty and staff to help their peer groups recognize and respond to mental health crises. These peer supporters may be more accessible to those in need.

#4 Offer Virtual Mental Health Services to Students and Staff

With options like digital and telehealth sessions, students living off campus can access their institution’s mental health resources. Inside Higher Ed shared in a study, by TimelyMD, that 85 percent of college students said they were experiencing increased stress and anxiety due to the pandemic and uncertainty about continuing their education. They also noted that less than 25 percent of students surveyed reached out for help, showing there is an awareness gap in the availability of virtual counseling resources. If your institution offers virtual mental health services, let that be known around your campuses.

#5 Mental Health Resource Information Printed on Student IDs

Last May the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act was passed. This act now requires all higher education institutions to provide contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line, and a campus mental health center on all student identification cards they issue. This is a way for students to always have easy access to mental health resources. Additionally, there is hope that having this information made widely available will encourage students to discuss suicide and mental health openly.

There are many reasons your higher education institution should invest in your students’ mental health. From improving student academic performance to suicide prevention and increasing student retention, it’s crucial for higher education to prioritize student mental health. When students are looking at which higher education institutions to attend, they may take into consideration what mental health resources your institution offers—be ready to meet their needs.

Natalie Schwarz
Author: Natalie Schwarz

Natalie Schwarz creates and edits internal and external communications as a Content Marketing Writer with Nelnet Campus Commerce. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing and has over a decade of professional writing experience. When she’s not crafting communications, you can find Natalie enjoying the outdoors with her husband and their twin boys or scoping out an estate sale.

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