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A close-up image of the hands of a student as they text on their phone.

College students may be hesitant to use their campus mental health resources. Mental health and suicide-prevention hotlines can help students in crisis.

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A spring 2023 Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed conducted by College Pulse found around 3 in 5 students had not used their institution’s mental health resources. Some of the common criticisms of on-campus or campus-based resources include limited availability of counselors and a lack of diverse counselors with perspectives.

Mental health hotlines are one way to provide immediate support for college students, and some national groups serve specific groups of learners that can address their mental health concerns and promote their overall success in college.

Inside Higher Ed compiled five examples of different mental health hotlines institutions can use to connect their students to support.

A national connection: The 988 Suicide and Crisis line was created in 2005 to support Americans with suicide intervention work and, in July 2022, became an easy-to-remember three-digit hotline that connects users via phone or texting to anyone experiencing suicidal ideation, a mental health or substance use crisis or other emotional distress. Since changing its number, the hotline has seen more calls and faster connection as states provide additional support.

Most Americans aren’t aware of the 988 hotline, so higher education leaders and practitioners can help in making the campus community aware of the resource.

For students of color: College students from historically marginalized backgrounds are less likely than their peers to seek mental health treatment, but many face unique forms of trauma through their lived experiences of discrimination on campus, particularly those at predominately white institutions.

Hotlines for mental health that target specific racial or ethnic groups can connect students to representatives who share their identities or have been trained for culturally competent counseling support.

Young people of color can connect with The Steve Fund by texting STEVE to 741741.

For LGBTQ+ students: Similarly, LGBTQ+ students are at higher risk of suicidal ideation and mental illness. Recent data from The Trevor Project found almost four in 10 LGBTQ young people (ages 13 to 24) have seriously considered suicide and more than one in 10 have attempted suicide in the past year.

Students who live in states that have targeted LGBTQ+ rights and supports may be at a heightened risk; 90 percent of students say recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being.

The Trevor Project has a call line and a texting number for LGBTQ+ students seeking care, as well as a peer-support network for LGBTQ+ young people to connect.

For graduate students: Attending and completing a graduate degree program can be especially challenging because students are more likely to have competing priorities (such as work or caregiving) on top of academic responsibilities.

Grad Resources established a graduate-student focused hotline in 1999 to help address suicidal ideation and mental health challenges among this group of learners. Counselors are trained in traditional support offerings but also understand the unique demands of research, teaching and other circumstances of those attending a graduate program. Students can reach the Grad Crisis-Line through 877-GRAD-HLP 24-7.

Student-run hotlines: Some institutions have their own chapters of text-based support hotlines to address fellow student concerns.

A November 2023 survey from Wiley found 83 percent of college students turn to their friends and family to help them cope with their mental health. The 2023 Thriving College Student survey (commissioned by the College Student Mental Wellness Advocacy Coalition and the Hi, How Are You Project, with support from the Jed Foundation) had a similar finding, that 90 percent of respondents turn to friends for information about mental health; 83 percent use the internet.

Lean on Me is a texting hotline that anonymously connects students with a trained peer who can help students in the moment. The initiative started in 2016 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and expanded to other campuses, including Boston College, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland, College Park.

The technology connects the users (the person seeking help) with a supporter (trained peer respondent), at any time of the day, but to accommodate supporters’ schedules and academic commitments, students may be passed off to a different peer advocate. At Boston College, supporters meet for monthly trainings and a briefing on conversation topics and support for diverse students, according to the university’s student newspaper, The Heights.

Do you have a wellness tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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