In the case of college campus mental health awareness, resources, and management, best practices should include an investment of resources (time, money, people, and space) into prevention, education, equity, treatment, maintenance, and crisis response. It is through an understanding and investment in these components that we will see the easing of stress, increased productivity and concentration, and higher retention rates.
Create a plan
Any best practice to ensure a quality, equitable, and accessible mental health program on campus will start with an institutional plan that attracts buy in from all constituencies and is informed by students, staff, faculty, and administrators as well as data and mental health experts. Such a process will take into account the current climate on campus, the current resources available, and a knowledge of student engagement on campus (in person education and services vs online training and telehealth).
The JED Foundation has created a mental health action guide to the strategic planning process for an institution. This guide offers not only ideas for strategic action planning, but also suggested administrative support needed, recommended task force members, a plan to develop institution specific goals and assessment plan, and suggested education plans.
It should be noted that resources are always a question when discussing new initiatives. This survey of over 400 College Presidents indicates that there is not only an increased focus on mental health as a priority but also showed that around 72% of those surveyed had already reallocated funds or identified new funding sources. Finally, over 80% of College Presidents surveyed said that campus mental health is at least mentioned in their strategic plans.
All plans should treat mental health as a growth item and not a check box. To fully commit to this as a community will require not only ongoing programming, treatment, and assessment, but also an ongoing understanding that there might never be enough resources to meet the whole mental health need immediately, but a diverse set of services can work to fill many gaps.
The bottom line is that while mental health concerns are very real and valid for all college students, students of color often experience additional sources of anxiety, stress, and depression and it is critical that all our efforts regarding mental health awareness and support on campus acknowledge this and put this knowledge into practice.
While most mental health care is low or no cost on college campuses, the very real equity issues must be considered in the planning process to ensure representation, access, and justice in mental health action plans.
The Equity in Mental Health Framework offers 10 recommendations that institutions can use to continue to strive to support their students of color. These recommendations are systemic changes and ask for not only action, but also community reflection. The recommendations are:
- Identify and promote the mental health and well being of students of color as a campus wide priority.
- Engage students to provide feedback
- Actively recruit, train, and retain faculty and staff that are diverse and culturally competent.
- Create opportunities to engage around national and international issues and/or events.
- Create dedicated roles to support the well-being and success of students of color.
- Support and promote accessible and safe communication with campus administration.
- Offer a range of programs and services in a variety of formats.
- Reach out to students to promote varied programs and services through varied platforms and channels.
- Utilize culturally relevant and promising programming and assess the effectiveness.
- Participate in information sharing between and within schools.
This toolkit gives specific ideas for implementation of the above recommendations.
Invest in Preventative Measures & Education
Mental health concerns and mental illness have a profound affect on students. Research tells us that in addition to worsening conditions, their relationships can suffer, GPA’s can fall, and students can stop or drop out of school if mental health concerns go undiagnosed or untreated. When a campus community is more aware of signs and symptoms to watch for, conversations to have, and help to seek, bad outcomes go down. Retention goes up. Students are more successful.
So, what are the preventative measures to take?
- Invest in training for the campus community. Mental Health First Aid Higher Education offers education to students, staff, faculty, and administrators on everything from illness awareness to recognizing signs and symptoms to seeking treatment.
- Address specific student need. Data tell us that students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first generation students, low income students, and international students have specific mental health needs and can carry anxiety or apprehension about seeking care. Direct resources to provide support to those students and include those voices and experiences in the mental health action plan.
- Focus on reducing stigma. 47% of students still perceive public stigma attached to mental health and mental illness. Create a culture where talking about personal experience is welcomed and normalized. Incorporate conversations about mental health into classes, content, or programs. Start by taking the pledge to be stigma free.
- Specifically invest in suicide prevention measures. NAMI suggests increasing connectedness, providing adequate resources, developing life skills and developing crisis plans. Additionally, institutions can identify places where students can and have hurt themselves and limit access.
- For specific ideas, check out the preventative measures towards the bottom of this page.
Invest in Treatment & Crisis Management
While it is important for higher education professionals to feel comfortable having conversations, ending stigma, and supporting students, we also must invest in equitable, accessible, available, and integrated mental health care to meet the needs of those students who do need and want treatment. Some items to consider:
- Consider equity: Hiring providers that students of color, LGBTQ+ students, veterans, and other underserved populations can identify with may enhance services offered.
- Consider accessibility: locations, hours, virtual options, and no cost options all enhance the accessibility of treatment.
- Consider volume: The International Association of Counseling Services recommends a ratio of 1 counselor to 1,000-1,500 students. Additionally integrating a triage process and partnering with community providers are options as well.
- Consider expectations. Clearly define for students and the entire community (and clearly communicate) what the scope of services on and off campus are.
Crisis management should be a component of the strategic planning process. Who will handle what, why, and how. In addition, resources should be available for students who are in immediate crisis. Whether on campus on already available resources, that information should be readily available to students.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
- The JED Foundation: Text “START” to 741-741or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect to the crisis text line.
- Seize the Awkward: Reach out to the crisis text line by texting SEIZE to 741-741
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish.
- Trevor Project Lifeline: If you are thinking about suicide and in need of immediate support, please call the TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678.
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.