Supporting the mental health of college students

September 12, 2022 Watermark Insights

Supporting the mental health of college students

The mental health crisis continues to progress among college students. The majority of higher education students meet the criteria for at least one mental health condition. Likewise, studies show that rates of anxiety and depression among students are at historic levels.

Unfortunately, students don’t always know where or how to find help. In some cases, they may be unable to identify mental health resources. While advisors and educators are typically eager to help, it can be challenging to identify students in need without the appropriate tools and preparation.

Higher education leaders have started thinking outside the box, taking a multifaceted approach to supporting students. Student success software enables higher education institutions to identify which students need support and when. This platform helps college-level educators to become “first responders” and better equip them to respond to student struggles.

We'll cover some important questions and topics for how to support college students' mental health during this unprecedented return to the classroom.

The importance of supporting student mental health

Experiencing mental health struggles can significantly impact every part of a student's life. Supporting college students with mental health issues shows your administration's dedication to seeing learners thrive in every aspect of their lives. Establishing mental health resources supports your students in critical ways, such as: 

  • Promoting academic achievement: Students struggling with their mental health may have difficulty focusing on their studies, concentrating in class, and meeting expectations at your institution. Poor mental health can even lead to absences and affect graduation rates. You can proactively engage struggling students by connecting them to mental health services as soon as possible. As a result, students may become more motivated and ready to take on their academic goals.
  • Enabling early detection and intervention: Mental health struggles can begin at any age, but they may become worse if left untreated. Providing mental health support for college students enables staff and faculty to intervene. They can more easily recognize the signs of mental health disorders and connect students with appropriate resources.
  • Meeting students' mental health needs: Every student is unique. Some individuals may have greater mental health needs than others but lack accessibility to such services. Promoting mental health resources at your institution helps learners of all demographics and populations get the care they deserve.
  • Raising awareness about student mental health: Education about mental health can prevent stereotypes and stigma around seeking care. Everyone at your institution benefits from learning how to identify mental health struggles, where to get help, and how to manage symptoms. Raising awareness can also prevent negative outcomes associated with mental health disorders, such as bullying and substance use.

Are you supporting holistic well-being? 

A holistic approach to well-being has never been more critical. Educators must take steps to truly understand their students' challenges in the classroom and at home.

Here’s how:

Find out more about being a student at your school by asking probing questions. How do students feel about their day? Is the transition from class to class chaotic and confusing? It may surprise you to hear which parts of your students’ days are unsettling.

In order for students to focus on learning, they must have their basic needs met. You can round out the assessment of your students' well-being by understanding their daily home lives. Broach topics like who lives in the household, which TV show they love, or what’s for lunch. These seemingly benign topics can reveal valuable information about students’ lifestyles outside school.

Of course, students can be reluctant or embarrassed to speak about their home lives. Keep an eye on small changes in your students’ participation, attendance, and grades. Even small fluctuations can be early indicators of deeper issues.

Our partner Nash Community College offers students on-campus therapy as a holistic approach to student health. Marbeth Holmes, dean of student wellness at the college, says the services “empower the whole student with personal, social, and community resources for self-development and personal enrichment.” 

The school doubles down on its commitment to holistic health by giving students stipends to fund their basic needs. Therapy and stipends might not be available to your institution — however, you can dig to see which resources are available and how they can support complete wellness. Colleges today can support student mental health by addressing their needs on every level.

Are you overcommunicating your institution’s resources?

In uncertain times, confidence in an institution’s resources provides invaluable security to students and their families. It’s critical to consistently overcommunicate mental health resources.

Here’s how:

Be prepared to help distressed students by developing a comprehensive resource guide that identifies school and community support. The guide should speak to educators who need to find quick references and families who might need to call on resources from home. When developing the guide, think about the holistic approach to student wellness, including:

  • In-school resources: Nurses and counselors.
  • Community services: Food banks, mental and physical health care, transportation, and childcare.

Make your guide as simple as possible to avoid confusion. For example, establish one go-to support person. From the very first day of school, students should understand who can provide relief in moments of crisis.

Once your guide is in place, share it with your students and their families via:

  • Emails.
  • Classroom discussions.
  • Conferences.
  • Newsletters.

A running dialogue around available resources destigmatizes the need for help. Students and families feel supported just by knowing support is attainable.

Another partner, Terra State Community College, leverages health care partnerships to support students with mental health concerns. Because the resource plan is widely shared across campus, students know to seek help at the school’s student services department. Each student understands they can also call the community health care provider’s helpline and access therapists at the counseling center. Work to reach a base-level understanding of where students and their families can seek help at your institution.

Are you providing one-on-one coaching?

In today’s classroom environment, even the most well-equipped students can struggle. Establish proactive one-on-one outreach that surfaces problems before they become all-consuming.

Here’s how:

One-on-one support ensures students don’t fall through the cracks and mental health issues don’t fester. If students can resolve “life issues,” they're free to focus on their education.

Set up each student with a coach, which can be a teacher, counselor, or mentor. Schedule regular meetings where students have free rein to voice wide-ranging concerns. These are opportune times for coaches to connect students with support from the resource guide. Ideally, coaches support students throughout their academic journeys, but they should take detailed notes in their files to provide organizational transparency on wellness and mental health needs.

Another partner, Randolph Community College, saw a 5% increase in retention among students who used success coaches. These success coaches filled in knowledge gaps for a first-generation college student, made sure a new mom finished her to-do list, and encouraged a dropout to complete their degrees. Imagine the impact a success coach could have on a young student's life.

As you may have noticed, there’s a common thread to providing today's youth with sustained, effective mental health support. Educators need to be proactive. Create a community in your classroom that prioritizes holistic wellness. Foster connections to resources by sharing them often and making them as clear as possible, especially for our youngest learners. Provide consistent, individual check-ins with responsible, caring adults who can gauge students’ well-being.

No one knows exactly how this school year will look, but the least we can do is mentally prepare for it.

How student success software supports mental health

Though providing counseling and other mental health care services is critical, higher education institutions can take a more comprehensive approach using student success technologies. Communication and problem-solving are easier when everyone on or off campus is well connected. Student success software enables institutions to meet mental health challenges while enhancing their engagement and retention strategies.

For instance, data collection, measurement, and analysis software help administrators find solutions for improved learning outcomes and student support. Institutions can take this data and turn it into actionable steps, such as identifying students who need support and developing intervention strategies.

Because many students may be hesitant to reach out for help, it can often be difficult to accurately capture warning signs like poor attendance or course progression. With student success software, your institution's entire community can be more involved in proactively informing, engaging, and empowering students in a streamlined manner. From efficiently planning students' future semesters to creating intuitive, custom reports, your institution can better support students in their educational journey.

Teachers and administrators can also benefit from early alerts. Such features can enable faster solutions and recommendations centered around individual student needs.

Finally, student success software opens the door for improved communication between all parties. Learners can more efficiently communicate with their peers, teachers, and academic success teams to build a unique support system.

How student success software supports mental health

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