Demand for mental health services is soaring. In fact, the number of students seeking mental health services is growing five times faster than enrollment, reported Kelly Field in 2016 for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- More students arriving on campus with pre-existing mental conditions;
- More social media and technology use among students;
- More faculty referring students to mental health centers; and
- An overall decreased stigma about seeking help.
College leaders fear that failing to provide students with adequate care in a timely manner could result in lower graduation rates and higher risk of liability. As a result, institutions have experimented with several approaches to meeting demand:
1: Expanding services
Colleges that have the resources to do so are adding more staff to their mental health centers. More staff decreases wait times and evens out disproportionate staff-to-student ratios. But many colleges lack the funding necessary to hire the number of counselors recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services: one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.
And even when colleges have the financial resources to hire more staff, they face several roadblocks, such as finding professionals willing to relocate near campus.
Some institutions have instead enlisted the services of:
- Psychology and counseling-education professors;
- Temporary contract-based therapists;
- Primary-care providers;
- Postdocs; and
2: Establishing triage systems
Colleges are also finding new ways to determine which students require immediate attention.
For example, Memorial University of Newfoundland assigns students seeking mental health services a spot on a stepped care system that includes nine tiers. Each tier receives a different level of care, ranging from online self-help to intensive intervention. Similarly, Jackson College in Southeast Michigan is promoting mental health triaging and training faculty, staff, and students to “proactively identify and address signs of mental distress” in themselves and others.
3: Encouraging group therapy
Dan Jones, the director of East Tennessee State University‘s counseling center, says group therapy—which is both cost-efficient and time-efficient—is proven to be just as effective as individual therapy.
Because coordinating schedules for every student in a group can be difficult, some schools are offering short-term group therapy, such as the University of California, Santa Cruz‘s three session seminar, Embrace Your Life.
4: Teaching resilience
Some schools have taken a preventative approach to mental health services by coaching students to cope with failure and stress before they reach a point where they need to seek help. For instance, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is working on a program called Big Red Resilience that will train students to help their peers in need.
5: Referring students
Institutions that simply don’t have the resources to accommodate—or provide alternatives for—their growing demand have begun referring students to outside providers.
To reduce barriers to off-campus care, colleges are:
- Offering discounts to clinicians;
- Persuading clinicians to do pro bono work;
- Working out deals with teaching hospitals; and
- Offering students financial assistance for their co-pays and out-of-network fees.
For example, two mental health care professionals recently launched the Behavioral Health College Partnership (BHCP), a mental health program run by Northwell Health that partners with more than 77 colleges in the New York metropolitan area. BHCP helps students in crisis by offering emergency evacuations so that students can be assessed by professionals and begin treatment without delay.
6: Restructuring orientation
Some institutions are working to tackle mental health issues as soon as students step on campus by developing first-year orientation programs that emphasize mental health and wellness resources. For instance, in 2017, Ryerson University restructured its first-year orientation to include a fashion show that focuses on body positivity, a space for students to pet dogs and relax, and a ThriveRU workshop about mental health and learning strategies.
Over the last few years, the heightened demand for campus mental health services has drawn attention from institutional stakeholders, the public, and the media. To equip members for this task, the Student Affairs Forum has created an editable presentation.
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