Student mental health is top of mind for campus administrators as the new academic year gets underway. In fact, 8 out of 10 college and university presidents surveyed this year by the American Council on Education (ACE) indicated that student mental health has become more of a priority on their campuses than it was three years ago.
Yet as campus officials encourage students to use available resources when needed, counseling centers are often short-staffed and unable to fully meet demand. That’s where counseling services delivered through videoconferencing, phone or online messaging can come into play.
Teletherapy options are often effective in helping students find their way to counseling assistance, which may continue as teletherapy or transition to in-person help, as UB reported last year in an article on the teletherapy trend in higher ed.
Numerous studies show students are stressed and struggling. In a Barnes & Noble College report released this month, 86% of 762 college students surveyed reported anxiety and 66% reported depression, putting them at risk for dropping out. First-generation college students are particularly stressed, notes the report, “Mental Health and Well-Being on Campus: How we better care for the whole student.” While 85% of students said their school provides resources, only 24% have used them.
Among the 400 college presidents responding to the ACE survey, 72% report having allocated or identified additional funding to address student mental health needs. It’s not surprising, given how often related concerns reach their desks. Nearly one in three public and private nonprofit four-year presidents, and about one in five public two-year presidents, said they hear once a week or more about students struggling with mental health. About nine in 10 presidents rely on their vice president of student affairs or dean of students to help with these issues.
When asked what they would do with unlimited resources to dedicate to student mental health on campus, 58% of presidents said hiring additional staff, mostly in the counseling center, would be the first move they would make.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has added a new after-hours resource for students experiencing a mental health crisis or are in need of support or guidance, reports The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper. The CAPS 24/7 hotline is staffed by the provider ProtoCall and shares a phone number with the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office, which will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The idea for the 24/7 call line came from a recommendation by the university’s Mental Health Task Force, which convened in March 2018 and released a report in April 2019. The report suggested the university continue to review online tools that can allow every student to have anytime, anywhere access to online assessment and self-care tools as well as a mental health counselor.
Also expanding its counseling services this year is Georgia Institute of Technology, which has just opened the Center for Assessment, Referral, and Education (CARE). It will serve as a single point of entry for students to access mental health resources and services on campus and beyond. As at UNC, a mental health task force helped identify the need—in this case, for a single pathway to resources.
Higher ed institutions are reminding students as the new year begins about the many services available to them. For example, The State News, Michigan State University’s student newspaper, recently published an article listing counseling options—including the free and confidential services students can access via the My Student Support Program app. The app provides talk, text and video services in more than 100 languages.
Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.