3 strategies for raising mental health awareness during orientation

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3 strategies for raising mental health awareness during orientation

Colleges are facing a sudden increase in student demand for mental health services.

But as the demand for student counseling services skyrockets, many institutions struggle to keep up. And although young adults list mental health as a top concern, many do not know how to access the resources available to them or feel limited by what is available.

To tackle student anxiety, some colleges incorporate mental health and resilience training into first-year orientation. Here’s how.

Strategy 1: Offer stress relief opportunities

It’s really important for students to get to feel like they actually belong here because what we’ve found is that if students feel like they belong on campus they are more likely to stay on campus and finish their degrees here.

Akeisha Lari, former coordinator of student life programs at Ryerson University

Ryerson University‘s orientation offers a space for students to pet dogs and relax, reports Amara McLaughlin for CBC News. Hopefully, dogs will encourage students to smile and enjoy the moment, Akeisha Lari, formerly the coordinator of student life programs, told McLaughlin.

Therapy dogs are part of Ryerson’s larger efforts to raise mental health awareness and create an inclusive environment during orientation. The university also puts on a body-positive fashion show that creates a welcoming space for students of all shapes and sizes, writes McLaughlin.

“It’s really important for students to get to feel like they actually belong here because what we’ve found is that if students feel like they belong on campus they are more likely to stay on campus and finish their degrees here,” says Lari.  

Strategy 2: Teach coping strategies

At Florida State University (FSU), the Student Resilience Project teaches students not only how to cope with stress, but also how to deal with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse or family mental illness. FSU’s Institute for Family Violence Studies is implementing the trauma-resilience program with the hopes of bringing attention to ACEs and to prevent affected students from coping with trauma through harmful behaviors like substance abuse.

Jim Clark, dean of FSU’s College of Social Work, was inspired to develop the trauma-resilience program following a surge in demand for mental-health services on campus. Clark hopes that the trauma awareness program will be more effective than traditional mental health programs by helping students understand the root of the issues they face. “Most people do not know there is a connection between what happened to them and how they are coping it with it,” he says.

All incoming first-year students are required to participate in the online program, which includes a series of videos on methods for dealing with both trauma-induced suffering and everyday stress, like academic pressure and homesickness.

Strategy 3: Share students’ stories

Most people do not know there is a connection between what happened to them and how they are coping it with it.

Jim Clark, dean of Florida State University’s College of Social Work

Several colleges share stories from students to help normalize mental health concerns. As part of Northwestern University‘s orientation, for example, student actors to read the narratives of alumni describing their mental health challenges and how they asked for help.

Similarly, Stanford University‘s Resilience Project features personal storytelling by students and alumni who describe the self-doubt they experienced when they arrive on campus and how they persevered. And at FSU, incoming students watch video testimonials of students discussing the challenges they faced when first arriving on campus.

(Eva, Greater Good, 1/11/19; Anderson, Quartz, 8/15/18; Bauer-Wolf, Inside Higher Ed, 8/20/18; McLaughlin, CBC News, 8/29/17)

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