Although young adults list mental health as a top concern, only one in three students say they have reliable access to mental health resources, according to a recent study from the Born This Way Foundation (BTWF). These findings are consistent with a similar study conducted by BTWF in 2017.
To conduct the 2017 study, Benenson Strategy Group administered an online survey and drew responses from 3,015 people between the ages of 15 and 24. Participants were asked a series of questions about their own mental health, their tactics for tackling mental health issues, the role peers and parents play in their mental health efforts, and finally, how colleges can create a healthier atmosphere.
Students reported that they thrived in colleges that were considered “kind.” According to students, “kind” colleges offer free mental health counseling services, stress relief resources—like yoga or meditation—and have a LGBTQIA center on campus. But only 34% of students reported having all three of these services on campus, and 15% of students reported that their campus had none.
So as demand for mental health services continues to grow, colleges and universities are thinking strategically about where to allocate their limited resources. To bring more context to your decisions, here’s a breakdown of the three services that students want you to invest in:
1: Free counseling services
When mental health counseling services are free, students are more likely to make an appointment when they feel overwhelmed or stressed. But when counseling services require payment for appointments, students often feel the need to get their parents involved and feel less comfortable seeking help.
Many colleges are experimenting with ways to expand access to counseling. For instance, in the fall of 2017, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) began offering all incoming students a free online screening for depression. More than 2,700 students have opted in, and UCLA counselors have followed up with more than 250 students who exhibited symptoms of mental illness. Not only do students benefit from this free service, but at least one study has found that colleges that invest in mental health resources recoup their costs through increased student retention.
2: Stress relief resources
The share of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” rose from 50% in 2011 to 62% in 2016, according the American College Health Association.
But counseling services aren’t always the answer. Some colleges are taking a holistic approach to wellness by offering services designed for de-stressing. For example, the University of Minnesota offers hydromassages, while University of Iowa students can take a dip in the school’s giant hot tub. Northeastern University, University of North Dakota, and UCLA offer dedicated meditation rooms. And Ryerson University offers spaces for students to pet dogs during first-year orientation, as playing with animals has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels.
3: LGBTQIA centers
About 23% of LGBTQ students are more likely to experience harassment and less likely to feel comfortable on campus than their heterosexual peers, according to a survey by Campus Pride.
LGBTQIA centers can help provide students with a sense of belonging. The University of Pennsylvania‘s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center is one of the oldest in the country, and for the past 35 years, the center has served as a social and political hub for its LGBTQ students, faculty, and allies. In addition, the campus’s SafeZones ensure that any student who is interested in sexual orientation or gender issues feels welcome, and faculty and staff who have completed intensive training are ready to listen, support, and refer students to appropriate resources.
(Allan, Lifehacker, 8/15/16; Born This Way Foundation report, accessed 4/26; Born This Way Foundation report, accessed 6/22/18; Donachie, Education Dive, 7/27/17; McLaughlin, CBC News, 8/29/17; Reilly, Time, 3/19/18; Sachs, Washington Post, 12/1/17; Simon, USA Today, 5/4/17)
When Alamo Colleges District implemented a new advisor training program, the percentage of students with a formal academic plan increased by more than 20%.
Read more about student mental health
The number of students seeking mental health services is growing five times faster than enrollment.
As colleges struggle to keep up with the explosion of demand for mental health services, students are taking matters into their own hands.
"We saw a lack of ability to effectively treat college students in need of care," says the program's co-founder.