The difficulty is obvious. Researchers in 2018 discovered that 35% of first-year college students had a mental disorder, notably sadness or anxiety, after polling almost 14,000 students (in eight countries). Anxiety is the top issue among American college students seeking mental health care, and the problem is becoming worse. How are colleges and universities addressing student well-being both within and outside of the classroom, where requests for mental health help often exceed resources? Whether you’re an educator, staff member, or administrator who wants to prioritize student well-being at your school, or a worried parent with a child heading off to college, the emerging programs, new online resources, and innovative approaches to classroom teaching described below may encourage and inspire you.
more understanding from the beginning
Why not speak more directly about mental health given that colleges provide orientation workshops on sexual assault prevention, drug and alcohol use prevention, and other student health and lifestyle topics? During in-person orientation events, several universities are starting to proactively advise students about mental health issues.
Different methods are used, such as formal lectures and panel debates, role plays, quick movies, and student testimonies followed by small group discussions. Here, students learn how to identify the signs of mental illness, where to go for services and assistance, and how to approach peers who may be experiencing difficulties.
Orientation planners at Northwestern University changed their emphasis from professional speakers to student testimonials as a result of student feedback. The stories of graduates discussing their struggles with mental health and how they got treatment were read aloud by student actors last autumn.
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The student audience was more likely to connect with storytelling since they could directly identify to the information given. Additionally, it’s critical to provide information on mental health in a manner that is both relevant and memorable given the deluge of information students get at the beginning of their college careers. Additionally, this strategy could make struggling pupils feel less alone.
Stories and open discussions that mainstream mental health issues are crucial since the stigma associated with mental illness persists.
Free evaluations for mental health
Encourage students to keep track of their mental health in the same manner they keep track of their physical health as another strategy to combat stigma. In order to do this, several colleges are normalizing mental health examinations by providing their students with free, easily accessible exams.
Students may “receive a checkup from the neck up” at the mental health kiosk at the Recreation Center at Drexel University, for instance. Students are welcome to drop by for a few minutes to respond to a brief set of questions on a private screen. Students are given information about extra options and assistance for mental health, if necessary, after the test.
UCLA now provides a more official screening option. Researchers there are undertaking extensive online screenings to detect anxiety and sadness in 100,000 students, staff members, and faculty members as part of an interdisciplinary study endeavor to address pressing global health issues.
The UCLA Depression Grand Challenge is a four-year study that includes a 15-minute online assessment to determine whether participants may have mild to severe anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. They may get mental health care as needed, including therapy, a recommendation for skilled peer support, or the chance to take part in the interactive online program This Way Up. Researchers also keep an eye on participants over the course of four years.
Across-campus activities, programs, and courses
Students can learn more about their emotions (such as fear, anxiety, stress, or sadness) through programs like This Way Up, developed by Professor Gavin Andrews and his team at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney (affiliated with the University of New South Wales). They can also connect with a clinician who can monitor their progress and take free online self-help courses (like “Coping with Stress,” “Intro to Mindfulness,” or “Managing Insomnia”) to improve their understanding of their emotions.
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Florida State University recently launched an online trauma resilience training tool created through the Institute of Family Violence Studies and their College of Social Work, as universities are also noting a decline in student resilience—the capacity to recover from unpleasant experiences. The creators of the Student Resilience Project understood that many of the students who attended their university had gone through “significant family and community stress,” and that stress can impair learning. All incoming freshmen and transfer students at Florida State University are now required to take part in the training, which uses videos, animations, and informational sessions in the style of TED talks to develop students’ strengths and coping mechanisms.
Other initiatives in the US encourage student resilience throughout the academic year in an effort to address mental health issues more proactively. The Stanford Resilience Project offers academic skill coaching as well as personal storytelling. Many students and alumni speak about the intense self-doubt they felt when they first arrived on campus in a variety of online video clips. I really remember thinking, ‘I don’t belong here,'” one graduate admitted. Someone else admitted, “I was not used to working really hard and not succeeding. I shouldn’t be here. Like I was an admissions mistake.”
They eventually share some of the lessons they learned along the way, including “Our life is a draft,” and “Your career is not a grade that you got on a piece of paper.” It is continually being revised. Students also creatively share “epic failures” through comedy, poetry, videos, and songs in an annual event called “Stanford, I Screwed Up” to celebrate learning from mistakes.
Online resources and programmatic events like these appear to fill a critical need in light of the dearth of mental health professionals on campuses. Many students still favor one-on-one assistance, though.
The Pruitt Center for Mindfulness and Well-Being, which the University of Wisconsin—Superior opened in August 2018 to provide, has as its goal the promotion of mindfulness and well-being among students, faculty, staff, and the local community. In addition to weekly yoga and mindfulness classes for students, faculty, and staff, they also offer mindfulness workshops for new faculty and resident assistants. Their university library also has a carefully curated collection of resources for mindfulness and well-being.
Speaking of it
Despite all the resources available, many students don’t know exactly how to support peers who seem lonely, depressed, or distant, and many don’t verbalize their own mental health struggles. How do we begin the discussion?
At least 350 colleges now use Kognito, an online simulation program that teaches students how to approach friends who might be experiencing emotional distress and refer them to helpful resources. When students enter Kognito’s virtual campus, they speak with a virtual student who is struggling and learn more about mental health from a few other virtual students. They discover the most efficient ways to respond to their virtual peer after experimenting with several different strategies.
Another choice is to text someone for support. One of the first universities in South Dakota to provide a free texting hotline for students is the University of Sioux Falls. College students can get help from the nonprofit Text4Hope if they are concerned about a particular friend, feeling alone, depressed, or suicidal, or if they are overburdened with academic pressure themselves. The Helpline Center’s trained staff is available to reply to texts around-the-clock. Additionally, they encourage students to visit their Instagram account at #sdhopenotes, which features inspirational messages that students have left around colleges and universities all over the state (for example, “Be true to you!,” “Go girl!,” and “Life is not a solo act. People adore you (“I made it because someone listened, even through texting,” “I survived because…”).
On a much larger scale, there are currently more than 450 campus chapters of Active Minds, a national organization that advocates for mental health. In response to her brother Brian’s suicide, Alison Malmon established the organization in 2003. After learning how avoidable her brother’s death was, she declares, “I resolved—no matter what—to do something to change the way we approach mental health in this country.” Malmon wants other students to realize that seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness and that it’s okay to experience anxiety and depression.
In a 2018 study of Active Minds, researchers polled 1,129 students three times throughout the academic year at 12 universities in California to gauge their involvement with the organization and the resulting attitudes and knowledge about mental health. By the end of the school year, students who had low to moderate engagement with Active Minds at the beginning of the year reported greater mental health awareness and a decline in derogatory, stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness. Most importantly, they asserted that participation in student-run activities through Active Minds increased their propensity to assist a fellow student in need (e.g., by offering emotional support or connecting them with resources).
With the help of a Speakers Bureau that features individuals sharing their personal journeys of hope, a traveling “Send Silence Packing” exhibit to raise awareness and prevent suicide, as well as peer-run mental health clubs and support networks, Active Minds is opening up the dialogue about mental health and utilizing the power of peer-to-peer outreach to alter campus culture.
Integrating wellness practices into the curriculum
College instructors and professors can promote student well-being by explicitly modeling preventive strategies and coping skills in class, in addition to supporting peer-led initiatives and other campus initiatives. However, if you are a professor, you might be confused about how you could possibly fit another learning objective into your course syllabus.