Need for Mental Health Awareness and Support in Higher Education
There have been growing concerns regarding the mental health of students even before the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. But the pandemic has brought to the front a clear correlation between poor mental well-being and academic performance. Some extreme repercussions include higher risks of school dropouts and suicide ideation rates.
The Healthy Minds 2020 Fall Study reiterates these findings. It confirms that anxiety, mood disorders, and social isolation have compromised the quality of students’ educational journey. It peaked with 83% of students saying they faced academic impairment due to emotional or mental difficulties.
How to Approach Mental Health?
“Well-being is not a destination. Look for what is not working and redesign it, and so we are in a big and continuous redesign loop.”, says Dr. Teri Pipe from Arizona State University.
To address the changing needs of learners today, educational institutes across the country have been streamlining their efforts toward creating more holistic student wellness programs by making data-backed changes to their policies and campus environments. Some of the most common strategies taken by schools and colleges on this path are:
Boosting community-led activities
Higher education establishments are now using digital platforms to create a more engaged community on campus. It has propelled more student participation and communication. Using online notice boards, chat messenger apps, and student forums have strengthened campus-wide connectivity.
As per the Salesforce report, 28% of students felt their institute’s online communities gave them a sense of belonging during the pandemic. And offering such communication channels helps students overcome their social anxieties and loneliness better.
Many educators feel that introducing a one-credit Personal Health course or Mental Health Skills course into the curriculum can increase awareness among the student population about mental health concerns and help mitigate any negativity attached to those seeking support for depression and mood disorders. It creates a more empathetic learning environment, making campuses a ‘safe space’ for students.
Schools and colleges are focusing extensively on data collection to keep tabs on students’ mental (and emotional) well-being. They gather information by conducting regular online polls, mindset surveys, and campus events. They also ask students, lecturers, and staff to participate in policy discussions and other campus-related decisions to build a sense of belonging.
Access to counselors and other resources
Campuses have increased the employment of mental health advisors to make it easier for students to get help. Institute policymakers have started leveraging student data (collected via polls, surveys, and student-submitted feedback forms). Indicators like a sudden drop in grades or lack of social-event participation are used to reach out to potentially distressed students. Some common student support methods used by schools and colleges are:
- Introduction of group meditation or yoga courses to reduce the overall stress quotient on campuses.
- Providing alternate aids through reading materials and videos on mental health management for interested students and faculty members.
- Dedicated on-ground spaces for peer meet-ups. It encourages students who need immediate support to get help and makes campuses a friendlier place for them.
- Telehealth support (paid) to make behavioral therapists more accessible to students.
Tailored outreach programs
School & college leaders across the country have come to accept that students are not just grappling with their mental and emotional struggles; they are facing a far more layered problem that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and understanding. The coronavirus lockdown brought about a need to adapt to the distance education model, leading to isolation and social anxiety disorders.
A study confirmed that mental disorders hardest hit first-year Black students. Their depression grew by 89% between before-pandemic and four months after it. Cases of depression and anxiety also spiked exponentially among gender-minority students. These are the hard facts that educational institutes are still trying to navigate.
Around 77% of students feel that getting personalized messages made them feel that their college cared about their progress and success. Having regular and personalized communication from colleges boosts students’ morale and motivates them to perform better.
To make communication easier, educational institutes have started deploying customizable software solutions to free their staff from repetitive tasks (emails, text messages, and follow-ups). These tools help college management focus on improving communication formats.
Top-level recommendations from The Equity in Mental Health Framework (EMH Framework) for promoting students’ well-being are:
- Make identification and promotion of mental health a campus-wide priority for minority students or students of color.
- Encourage students to share their mental health problems (and feedback) through peer guidance engagements.
- Emphasis on hiring faculty and staff members who are culturally competent and come from diverse backgrounds. It also helps to actively train existing members on dealing with the needs of minority students.
- Provide students with opportunities for engagements in national and global events.
- Assign dedicated roles to support the mental wellness of students of color.
- Offer accessible and two-way communication systems with campus administrators.
- Promote all programs, campus events, and support services through multiple channels.
- Monitor the effectiveness of all culturally relevant programs and practices through data collection.
- Engage in information & resource sharing within and between schools.
It is essential to acknowledge that students use different coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. While their lifestyle habits and coping methods can lessen their distress, the existing on-campus strategies may be less effective for students from diverse backgrounds. So, when it comes to the mental well-being of students, schools & colleges should plan their outreach initiatives considering all ethnicities and gender definitions.
Cocolevio’s LIMS is a Learner management software featuring a wellness monitoring module. It is designed to meet the unique needs of medical colleges. It helps their administrators and decision-makers stay one step ahead of the curve. To know more about LIMS, contact our sales rep at (512) 222-5730 for a detailed product demo.