This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities have felt the negative impacts on mental health for both undergraduate and graduate students. 

Staggering Statistics: The Mental Health Epidemic

The numbers are alarming. According to a 2020 Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) study, 35% of undergraduates and 32% of graduate and professional students screened positive for major depressive disorder, while 39% of undergraduate and graduate and professional students screened positive for generalized anxiety disorder. According to a CDC report, one in four people aged 18 to 24 seriously contemplated suicide in June, and many used alcohol and other substances to cope with their emotions.

Negative Outcomes: Why Investing in Mental Health Is Crucial

With the prevalence of mental health problems, it’s essential that colleges and universities proactively address these issues. According to the Healthy Minds Network, “poor mental health hinders students’ academic success; untreated mental health issues may lead to lower GPAs, discontinuous enrollment, and too often, lapses in enrollment.” Results indicate that across all types of campuses, students with mental health problems were twice as likely to leave an institution without graduating. 

Given the impact on student wellbeing as well as the institution’s academic and economic success, it’s no wonder that school administrators and student affairs leaders listed student mental health as their number one concern in a 2017 Chronicle of Higher Education survey. 

With the stigma for seeking help going down, more students are seeking appointments at counseling centers. In fact, according to a 2019 Survey by the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors, 87.3% of directors reported experiencing an increased demand for counseling services in the past year.  But now, college mental health support systems are struggling with long wait times and understaffing.

With increased demands for mental health support exceeding resources in many cases, how can colleges and universities provide students the help they need in distress or crisis?

How Colleges Can Fix It

The Healthy Minds Network provides four recommendations for colleges and universities seeking to prioritize mental health with limited resources:

1. Speak Out About Mental Health

Reduce stigmas and help students feel that it is normal to express mental health concerns and seek help. Spread awareness through campus campaigns, and ensure that your university has outlined welcoming processes to students seeking help. Whichever way they reach out– whether they speak to a professor or an RA, or visit your campus clinic– students should feel heard and supported.

2. Pursue Partnerships

Working with organizations, support groups, student leaders, and more can ensure a campus-wide, comprehensive approach to mental health care, promotion, and prevention. 

3. Invest in Making Mental Health Services and Programs Accessible and Affordable

Mental health services need to be flexible and tailored to the needs of diverse students. Many college and university students have busy schedules and tight budgets, and certain populations need specific supports to make use of mental health services.

4. Listen and Respond to Student Needs

Listen to students on an individual and collective level. If you see overarching trends causing student fatigue, work to address these concerns on your campus. 

Beyond Counseling: Addressing Campus Issues to Improve Mental Health

It’s essential to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy social-emotional skills, coping mechanisms, and the resilience to thrive in adversity. Healthy habits, behaviors, and relationships benefit a student’s mental health. 

As mental health researcher Dr. Marty Swanbrow Becker says in “The Mental Health Crisis on Campus and How Colleges Can Fix It,” the need goes beyond individual counseling to include population health and prevention, such as reducing things on campus that jeopardize student well-being, like discrimination and violence. 

At 3rd Millennium Classrooms, we offer online prevention and intervention education to help colleges and universities seamlessly address today’s most critical issues, like alcohol, substance use, relationship violence, and conflict. By incorporating engaging, evidence-based courses that increase awareness from the start, you can strengthen your campus’ programs and initiatives to improve student culture and well-being. Learn more by visiting our website, or scheduling a call