The college years are full of unfamiliar responsibilities, time-sensitive decisions, and less parental support than some students are used to. As fun as this newfound freedom may be, it can be stressful too.
Our last blog post revealed that more than 60% of college students meet the criteria for one or more mental health problems. According to an eight-year study, the stats are even more troubling for non-white races and ethnicities. Another survey found that students believe support services often seem performative. This student’s response echoed others:
“No one actively reaches out and makes sure students are doing OK, and no one takes action to address the root causes of the issues. No matter how anxious or depressed you are, that paper’s still due on Friday.”
It’s time to get serious and intentional about student mental health. Academic progress will always be a distinctly important goal of higher education. However, there’s absolutely no progress to be made if students are stressed to the point of burnout or so mentally unwell that they can’t function.
Six Ideas Colleges and Universities Can Use to Support Student Mental Health
Mental health support services must be improved – and be readily accessible to all. Here are six ways colleges and universities can be more intentional about mental health support for students:
- Increase diversity – especially of behavioral health staff. If BIPOC students don’t feel like campus counselors, advisors, and faculty can relate to them in any way, they’re less likely to ask for help. One survey respondent said, “The best thing my college has done . . . was to bring an Asian American counselor to the wellness center team.”
- Bring therapy dogs on campus. Many students are living away from home – and away from their beloved pets. Colleges and universities can work with therapy dog organizations or even local shelters to bring animals on campus. A Smithsonian Magazine article covered this topic and its positive effects on students.
- Provide multiple counseling options, like after-hours and peer support. Some students have a full schedule of classes during the day. Or they may find the idea of walking into a campus counseling center in broad daylight a little intimidating. Others might feel more comfortable chatting with a group of peers in a more social setting. Make sure students have plenty of options to share their story and be heard.
- “Overcommunicate” how, when, and where students can get help. Mental health struggles often make the logistics of reaching out to someone feel daunting. It’ll take more than a few bulletins posted around campus. Keep the posters, but use other communication methods too (like social media and text message outreach).
- Offer personal development courses for credit. Classes on stress management and mindfulness can give students new tools and perspectives. For example, Westminster College offers human performance and wellness courses that let students earn credit toward their degrees.
- Prioritize self-awareness in the student advisement journey. College is largely a journey of self-discovery. When higher education institutions intentionally weave self-awareness into advisement and/or counseling, it can positively impact a student’s mental health and demonstrate how well a school cares for its students.
Self-Awareness is an Excellent Starting Point for Student Mental Health
While all six of these tips are important, let’s take a closer look at the last one. Self-awareness is often the catalyst for personal development. When you’re stressed or struggling with mental health, self-awareness is the bridge between knowing you need help and actually seeking help. It’s the same for students because it can help them realize just how valid their struggles are – and how worthy they are of mental wellness.
One self-awareness tool that can be particularly helpful is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI). Even though technically it is a personality assessment, the MBTI is currently used in many colleges as a career resource. So it’s easy and efficient to use it for mental health support too. Benefits will vary from student to student, but in general, insights from personality assessments can:
- Give students language to describe their thoughts and feelings to a therapist or trusted advisor
- Identify stress triggers so they can prevent them or learn to respond in helpful ways
- Help students feel more comfortable being themselves, while also encouraging inner growth
- Offer more personalized coping ideas outside of what might be traditional advice
- Provide a framework to help students gauge any future mental health challenges
- Understand unique behaviors exhibited when under stress or in conflict
- Boost confidence, determination, and drive
- Remind students they’re not alone
Self-awareness is a remarkable motivator. To harness its power, significant change is needed – especially in terms of diversity and accessibility. Fortunately, every step in the right direction counts. In the next post, we’ll share some real-life details about what colleges and universities across the country are doing to protect and improve students’ mental health.