Mental Health Perceptions

Mental Health Perceptions

A year into the pandemic, student mental health remains a big problem. With many not accessing campus counseling services, what can colleges do to help?

Former counseling students accuse Johns Hopkins of bias

Section: 

Former graduate students in clinical counseling accuse Johns Hopkins of forcing them out of the program.

Image: 

Students struggling but not seeking campus mental health support

Section: 
Kicker: 
47% of students say they could have used some or a lot more support from their college during the past year.

While students are still reporting COVID-19 mental health challenges, they are generally not taking advantage of counseling center services. As the following 12 ideas show, even centers strapped for resources can strive for better supports, both now and post-pandemic.

Image: 

Maintaining college student mental health and wellness

COVID-19 and the financial toll it has taken, and the suffering created by systemic racism and our growing awareness of it, has had a troubling impact on the mental health and wellness of college students. Inside Higher Ed’s recent Student Voice survey of college students (conducted by College Pulse and supported by Kaplan) found that one year into the pandemic, 65 percent of students rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor.” In addition, according to an April survey by Active Minds, a national mental health advocacy group, 80 percent of college students say the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Further, on our campus, the University of New Hampshire, a significant number of students report struggles with motivation, worry and feelings of isolation.

Given that students -- like the rest of us -- are reeling from the impact of the pandemic and the country’s painful and ongoing reckoning with systemic racism, these findings may not come as a huge surprise. However, a closer look at the data paints a more complicated picture.

While COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges many students face, nationally two-thirds of students who sought mental health treatment over the past year did so for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. Some early reports indicate that across the entire U.S. population over all, suicide rates may have actually declined in 2020.

At my own campus, demand for UNH’s campus mental health services is actually down from previous years, though it has been fairly steady over the course of this academic year. Not only that, but students’ academic performance actually improved this fall over the previous fall.

Data Takeaways

What conclusions can we draw from these more nuanced findings?

First, students as a group are doing better than they might think. They are certainly more resilient than the scary stories about the mental health crisis would have you believe. While that may be cold comfort to anyone who has grappled with mental health challenges this year, the data speak to resilience in the face of adversity.

Second, although things may not be as bleak as they seem, we should not ignore students’ mental health needs. If anything, now is the time to double down. Although students are performing well academically and rates of hospitalization for our students are down, students are clearly communicating that they want and need more help.

We need to send a message to students as we make our way out of the pandemic that no problem is too big or too small to address, and mental health and wellness can take different shapes. It can look like a cycling class, sleep coaching, a picnic in the park with friends, exploring a new club or activity, an appointment with a medical provider, support from a mentor, therapy, a moment of laughter over a foolish animal video or even time spent reflecting on the aspects of our lives for which we are grateful. In fact, some mental health needs might be served best by activities or engagements other than one-to-one therapy in traditional counseling settings.

[block:block=176]

I believe that, to best serve our students, we need to prioritize our ability to be nimble and to collaborate. For example, last spring we, along with many other higher ed institutions, shifted our service model and offered therapy via telehealth. This fall UNH was able to offer teletherapy and in-person services while maintaining practices that were consistent with the CDC workplace recommendations. Further, in order to meet the demand for teletherapy for our residential and remote students, we established a collaboration with Uwill, a teletherapy platform that provides video, phone and text-based counseling.

Campus Partners for Student Wellness

We, and the students at UNH, are also fortunate to have strong campus partners in wellness and student success. Our campus colleagues include, but are not limited to: Living Well Services, the Beauregard Center, the Office of International Students & Scholars, Health & Wellness, faculty, Campus Rec, the Center for Academic Resources, Residential Life, Student Accessibility Services, and associate deans and department chairs.

Each of these centers and units provide student resources that support wellness, build community and foster academic success -- all of which are vital dimensions of mental health and wellness. The collaboration encompasses a wide range of efforts. We, and they, display brochures that highlight different resources around campus. We include links on our webpage to theirs, we provide workshops and trainings, and we attend shared virtual and in-person visibility efforts.

As suggested in the recent Student Voice survey analysis, many of our faculty -- who collectively have the ability to reach the entire student body -- share information on resources for student well-being and academic success in their syllabi.

These connections have developed out of a shared understanding that student success, and therefore the university’s success, is grounded in student wellness. It has and will require that we partner to communicate creatively and consistently.

For example, as suggested in the recent Student Voice survey analysis, many of our faculty -- who collectively have the ability to reach the entire student body -- share information on resources for student well-being and academic success in their syllabi. We also provide faculty and staff with a guide on how to help students in distress.

Further, to support the significant number of students who are reporting that their mental health has suffered over this past year, we are working to help our entire community understand how UNH’s services fit into the broader picture of care -- which includes self-care, informal care, primary mental health care through our counseling center and specialized care through our community providers.

If we have learned anything over the past year, it is that students, and the institutions that serve them, have reason to take heart. This year of unexpected and overwhelming challenges, of pain and grief, has also demonstrated just how strong we are, especially when we stand together.

Author/s: 
Elisa Bolton
Author's email: 

Elisa Bolton is interim director of psychological and counseling services at the University of New Hampshire.

Section: 
Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 
Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Live Updates: 
liveupdates0
Most Popular: 
3

How colleges can support students’ mental health (opinion)

I recently wrote a piece for YES! Weekly, a regional alternative media outlet, on the mental health effects of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ youth, and in my interviews a common theme existed -- the word “humbling” was used constantly.

When I talked to other students, they said that COVID-19 was humbling. I was humbled to hear their stories. We were all humbled to see so many people finally supporting mental health awareness.

Yet there is one thing that seems to have not changed: students are still struggling.

Pre-pandemic, students worked on their mental health, found ways to cope, usually involving friends, and met with counselors to talk about their struggles.

Mid-pandemic, students were disconnected. Many lost access to college counselors due to campuses being shut down or being out of state. Most lost the coping skills they had worked so hard to develop. Many lost faith that it would get better.

[block:block=176]

But this isn’t just an issue within the LGBTQ+ community. This is an issue affecting students across the country, regardless of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, major, minor, interests or hobbies.

According to the recent Inside Higher Ed/College Pulse survey, only 8 percent of college students said their mental health was excellent. One-quarter of respondents rated their mental health as poor. The largest response was “fair,” selected by 40 percent.

Fair is not OK. OK, having 100 percent of students say their mental health is excellent is purely unrealistic. However, as Nido Qubein, president of my institution, High Point University, says, “There is no such thing as unrealistic dreams, only unrealistic timelines.”

So let’s talk. College administrators, I understand that you are trying your best. I understand this has been a hard year for everyone.

I also understand that you often can’t do things without hearing from students and that students don’t like to talk about their mental health. But that is what I am here to do.

In high school, I struggled with my mental health constantly. I felt like I was not enough. Like I was worthless. I was depressed and anxious. It was a struggle to get out of bed each day.

Although I objected, I got help. I got better. I became the person I am today.

Entering college was scary, bringing with me a past of pain and struggle. But I also brought the coping skills I learned in therapy and the tools needed to find the positive.

When COVID-19 threw us into a new world, many of those skills were lost. I couldn’t see friends. I couldn’t see family. I couldn’t go outside. I couldn’t go shopping.

We need colleges to help us. We need administrators to find innovative ways to engage us. But we also just need you to tell us it will be OK.

Among the 2,002 students who took the Inside Higher Ed survey, only 4 percent have the perspective of currently attending fully in-person classes. If that number is reflective of what’s happening nationally, just 784,000 college students of the 19.6 million that Statista estimates are in the U.S. are attending fully in-person classes.

With that comes struggle. Disproportionately, students not attending fully in-person classes are struggling with their mental health.

Right now, we need you. We need colleges to help us. We need administrators to find innovative ways to engage us. But we also just need you to tell us it will be OK.

Words and Actions That Helped Me and My Peers

High Point University is one of the few colleges and universities having all in-person classes. The best way I know to support students is through what I have seen here.

When HPU shut down, we all were very confused about what would happen next, like most everyone in the world. We received emails from President Qubein, messages that were reassuring. But even he admitted it was an evolving situation and things would change.

Hearing from President Qubein was reassuring. Hearing him say that he, in fact, did not know everything, oddly gave me a sense of calm. When reflecting on this, I realized why it did -- he was honest with us.

President Qubein didn’t try to lie to us and say things would be fine or that he had it under control. He didn’t try to play it down or act like everything was fine.

So often, college administrators try to make everything appear perfect. But this wasn’t perfect. This was just about the farthest from perfect we could be, and our president admitted it.

As time went on, the Office of Counseling Services offered virtual programming. The Campus Activities Team was hosting virtual bingo and movie nights. Professors were reaching out to check on us individually. A new normal had arrived.

Moving back onto campus in August, I had no clue what to expect. As the vice president of external communications for the Student Government Association, I knew I had a unique opportunity to reach students.

In collaboration with university administrators, SGA gave every single incoming freshman a stress ball and a piece of paper. The stress ball had the Office of Counseling Services contact information, and the paper had the SGA Executive Council’s contact information -- 14 resources in total that students had as they pulled onto campus again for the first time.

Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Imagine this. You are a struggling student, in a bad place, and don't know what to do. You unlock your phone as you lie in bed. You open Instagram and through tears see the same graphic across your entire feed telling you that it will be OK.

HPU has recognized that students need ways to decompress and destress. From installing an ice-skating rink, organizing a carnival, bringing in food trucks and more, HPU has stepped up. I’m proud to call this campus home.

Masked up and socially distanced, we are having a good time. We are glad to be on campus. And while it may be unrealistic for every campus to be in person right now, it is not unrealistic to expect every campus to support the mental health of its students.

I encourage college administrators everywhere to step up. Support your students. Find new ways to reach out. Be honest with your students. Be transparent with your students. Give your students ways to decompress. Collaborate with students, especially the Student Government Association. But most importantly, remind your students that it is OK and that mental health is not an illness.

Author/s: 
Joseph Maronski
Author's email: 

Joseph Maronski is a sophomore at High Point University in North Carolina, pursuing a dual degree in journalism and political science. Besides holding leadership roles on campus, Maronski volunteers for the Immune Deficiency Foundation and the Trevor Project. He serves on the Student Trustee Council for the Society of Professional Journalists. 

Section: 
Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 
High Point University/Lee Adams
Image Caption: 
This March, as part of its effort to provide physically distant activities, High Point University set up a 6,000-square-foot ice rink for students (and, during spring break, opened it up to community members).
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Live Updates: 
liveupdates0
Most Popular: 
3

6 Campus Counseling Center Challenges to Manage infographic

Section: 

Students need mental health help but often don’t turn to their colleges and universities for support. Knowing where the challenges lie can help higher ed leaders figure out solutions.

Image: 
Subscribe to RSS - Mental Health Perceptions
Back to Top