How colleges are improving mental health on campus

How colleges are improving mental health on campus

Even before COVID-19 hit, colleges and universities across the country were seeing an increase in the number of students reporting depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues.

In response, many schools are working to meet the increased demand for services on their campuses by adding staff, expanding community partnerships, establishing on-demand programs and more, while ensuring that services reach those most at risk.

In many ways, colleges demonstrate “what really good community mental health care can look like, in that communities and other organizations outside of the educational setting have a lot to learn from what’s going on in the higher education,” said John MacPhee, CEO of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works with high schools and colleges to support student mental health, during a recent webinar hosted by US News & World Report. .

Like many organizations, many colleges have adopted more robust virtual and hybrid services to reach students during the pandemic. “For many, telemental and digital health platforms were more comfortable and more culturally competent in many cases, and therefore [they] actually created more connections to care than actually existed before the pandemic,” MacPhee said.

“Even two years, three years before the pandemic, we had seen increased use of behavioral health services,” said Dr. Wendy Shanahan-Richards, chief medical officer of Aetna Student Health, which works to meet the needs of colleges. , universities and students. Her organization has begun increasing partnerships with schools to “ensure that the programs we have and the offerings we have are aligned with their student population,” she said.

In many ways, the pandemic has helped institutions focus and reevaluate their missions, said Dr. David Walden, director of the Counseling Center at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, as well as a lecturer in the department of psychology at the middle School. “Any crisis provides this opportunity to really connect with ‘What do I really need? Who am I really,'” he said.

That includes re-examining holistic health approaches, said Dr. Shawnté Elbert, associate vice president of health and wellness at The Ohio State University. When done well, these efforts involve “sitting down, talking with the students and bringing them to the table, which is a population and public health approach,” she said. “That means looking at how we approach the work we do with a very health equity lens.”

Personnel issues are a major concern. In addition to data regarding retention and turnover in higher education, “there is also data that indicates that over 90% of college counselors are burnt out,” Walden said.

This forced some creative solutions. For example, “in Hamilton, we’ve created something called a quarantine pantry,” Walden said, to provide farm-fresh ingredients for students to cook at home in a virtual, community-focused way. “We created a songwriting therapy center and a number of different virtual offerings that fit the needs of the moment,” he said.

Even though the use of telehealth services has declined since the start of the pandemic, “we don’t think it’s going to go away,” Shanahan-Richards said. To meet the needs of students, Aetna has developed a Wellness Web Portal that can be used by any student and includes resources and self-screening tools. “We listen to our schools and our students,” she said. “We want to make sure we do what we can.”

For colleges, MacPhee recommended creating an interdisciplinary leadership team that oversees mental health planning and engages faculty and various key campus offices, “so that you send this message that it’s up to everyone, and that it is everyone’s responsibility, even if mental health services are not in their role description. He also stressed the importance of suicide prevention, which consists of “systematically ensuring that the potential means of suicide are difficult to access”.

Hamilton has support specialists “who work in various offices across our campus that focus on specific populations,” like the LGBTQ community, Walden said. “This person can answer very specific questions about this life course. … This partnership allows our office to provide good treatment and therapy.

Ohio State enlists community partners for a day of educational and professional training, Elbert said, which can also sometimes help the university recruit new practitioners.

Taking care of staff is also important. Burnout has “arguably never had greater visibility, and institutions are not remaining competitive with other opportunities for care providers specifically in mental health,” Walden said. Providers and staff want and need connection and cohesion, he said, and want more flexibility in their work options.

Panelists agreed that telemental health and digital mental health hold great promise for alleviating some of the challenges they discussed. These platforms give universities a competitive advantage, MacPhee said, and they help with student retention and graduation rates, which in turn can increase outcomes. “From an investment perspective, I think that has to be part of the argument, or just part of the case, about these investments. They really pay dividends and they really support student success,” a- he said, “in addition to the extraordinarily important primary benefit of supporting the mental health of students, faculty and staff.

Public health, Elbert said in closing the webinar, is a team sport, and so colleges need to take a collaborative approach when it comes to addressing mental health needs. “We can’t do this work in silos,” she said. “We cannot do this work from a specific objective or area of ​​expertise. We need to have an interdisciplinary approach to look at this holistically.

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