A new place for students to turn for mental health help: Their peers

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A new place for students to turn for mental health help: Their peers

The demand for mental health services on campus is higher than ever. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the number of student seeking mental health services was growing five times faster than enrollment.

Colleges have struggled to expand services quickly enough to keep up with the explosion of demand, so students are taking matters into their own hands by establishing peer-run mental health organizations, reports Amy Nutt for the Washington Post.

A 2018 study found that mental health clubs on campus were associated with “increased awareness of mental health issues, reduced stigma, and a rise in ‘helping behaviors,'” writes Nutt.

Researchers graded the student responses based on their engagement with Active Minds and mental health issues. They found that increased familiarity with Active Minds was associated not only with an increased knowledge of mental health issues and decreased stigma, but also with a greater likelihood of helping peers in a mental health crisis.

The study was based on an online survey of more than 1,100 students across 12 California colleges. The survey asked students about their familiarity with Active Minds—a national organization that supports student-run mental health organizations on college campuses—and their attitudes about mental health issues more broadly. 

We see older students with preexisting mental-health issues. We also see a lot of veterans who bring more mental-health issues with them.

Janelle Johnson, senior counselor at Santa Fe Community College

“Student-organized activities can improve college student mental-health attitudes and play an important role in improving the campus climate with respect to mental health,” notes Bradley Stein, a senior physician policy researcher at Rand Corporation and one of the study’s lead authors. “The peer relationship really makes a big difference,” adds Lisa Adams, past president of the American College Counseling Association (ACCA). “The group atmosphere of learning while doing things together—it really meets them where they are because they care about their peers.”

Active Minds and other organizations are working to fill the gap left by colleges’ inability to keep up with the growing demand for mental health services on campuses. And the effects of these organizations are particularly felt at community colleges, which typically have fewer resources to devote to mental health services.

“We see older students with preexisting mental-health issues,” explains Janelle Johnson, the former president of ACCA and current senior counselor at Santa Fe Community College. “We also see a lot of veterans who bring more mental-health issues with them” (Nutt, Washington Post, 6/28/18).

Over the last few years, the heightened demand for campus mental health services has drawn attention from institutional stakeholders, the public, and the media. Divisional staff, cabinet leaders, and presidents are increasingly asking questions about how the demand is met on campus. Student affairs leaders often must serve as educators-in-chief for campus partners about the…

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