Thanks to the pandemic, most universities are preparing to welcome two years’ worth of campus newcomers this fall. Add to that the stressors resulting from months of political and social unrest as well as elevated health and financial concerns that threaten to leave schools facing a perfect storm of mental health challenges when campuses reopen.
EAB’s Hailey Badger and Kate Cudé share findings from their research into how colleges and universities are preparing. They point to the surprising success of virtual counseling as at least one silver lining that emerged from the pandemic. They also urge higher ed leaders to shift more of their focus to preventative care and promoting mental health wellness as a way to get ahead of the problem.
0:00:12.2 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Most of us are excited about the prospect of a broad re-opening of college campuses this fall and a return to the kinds of in-person activities that define the college experience. Our guest today explain why it won't all be sunshine and lollipops when students return, in fact, Higher Ed leaders fear they could be overwhelmed by demand for mental health counseling. Join us as we examine the research into best practices emerging across higher education on topics like virtual counseling, preventative care and ways to ensure faculty and staff are cared for so they can be of greater service to students who may be struggling. Thank you for listening and enjoy.
0:01:03.6 Hailey Badger: Welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Hailey Badger, I'm an Associate Director here at EAB, and I've spent probably about four of the last five years focused on mental health research, and I'm joined today by Kate Cudé, who's been my partner in that research. Welcome to the podcast, Kate.
0:01:21.7 Kate Cudé: Thank you, Hailey happy to be here.
0:01:25.4 HB: So today we're gonna talk about student mental health, and we know that mental health has really been in the spotlight across the past year. Why is that? What is behind the focus on mental health, what are some of the things we've seen across the past year, Kate?
0:01:39.3 KC: Well, anecdotally, COVID-19, as we've heard through our research, kinda kicked off a mental health and well-being marathon, but no one was really expecting, the events of this past year, it created a huge wave of trauma, we've all experienced increased anxiety about our own well-being, the well-being of our loved ones, and many of us have lost someone close to us, we've entered a incredibly divisive period in US politics, and we've witnessed a major racial reckoning, and so in addition to all of that trauma, there has also been a lot of new stress and existing stress has been amplified, especially for students, according to a recent active mind survey, 75% of college students said their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and through the lockdown, many students have had to accept that they might have to delay or fully forego big milestones on their student journey, such as orientation weekends, graduation ceremonies, student athletes have missed out on opportunities that have been fundamental to their athletic career, and in addition to processing the loss of those experiences, generally students are feeling isolated.
0:03:03.2 KC: We know 77% have reported feeling lonely or isolated, and some have had the privilege or have not had the privilege to be in a living environment that is conducive to their academic success or overall well-being, and the pivot to virtual learning has certainly opened new exciting doors, but it has also been a difficult adjustment for students, faculty and staff. Faculty and staff are struggling to take care of their own mental health as well, and they're also working to support student mental health. A recent survey out of the Boston University School of Public Health showed 80% of faculty have had one-on-one conversations in the past 12 months with a student regarding mental health, so we know it's been a rough year, what's important to recognize is that accessing mental health support for students through all this has changed and sometimes become more difficult to navigate.
0:04:02.2 KC: And through our research, we've seen this pose some really big challenges for institutions and providing the support students need, and many have met the challenges with some great initiatives and efforts. Hailey, do you wanna jump in and just share a little more about what we've seen institutions do to respond and adapt across this past year?
0:04:21.7 HB: Yep, and when I think about our conversations with Vice Presidents of student affairs in particular, I think that they knew right away that they were going to have to really change things up quickly to make sure that students could still have that access to counseling services, to other support resources. So they pivoted very swiftly to virtual operations, that's what we saw mainly in the spring of last year, and I think it's really interesting, and in 2018, less than 12% of college counseling centers offered telephone counseling and less than 4% offered video counseling. So virtual operations, that was a totally new territory for nearly every counseling center, and so they did a very nice job standing up those services pretty quickly, especially considering that was just totally new to them. And it's not just moving traditional one-on-one counseling online that we've seen, we have also seen a lot of institutions taking this opportunity to add a lot more flexible and accessible offerings for students. So, for example, we've seen drop-in sessions really rise in popularity; these are sessions where students can just drop in to talk to a counselor, they don't need an appointment, you just drop in the Zoom and can talk through an issue they're having with someone, USC calls these, Let's Talk Sessions.
0:05:44.5 HB: And I love that they also have community-specific ones, including dedicated sessions for black students, for Latinx students, for international students. I think that's a great way to help students feel like they can just drop in, they don't need to prepare for two weeks for their first counseling appointment, they don't need to be stressing out about it, they can just find a time that works for them and drop right in. We've also seen a big uptick in some of those virtual platforms like Headspace, Talk Space, Calm, and that's another great way for students to be able to just access those services, those resources whenever is convenient for them.
0:06:25.1 KC: In addition to adding new services and providing support in these different ways for students, we've also seen a lot of institutions having to promote those resources in new ways.
0:06:38.2 KC: So without those go to promotion classics, like putting up flyers or working with Red life to have them create Ableton board to highlight mental health resources, or we've heard a lot of people talk about not being able to walk students to the counseling center or show students where they can access the support during an in-person tour, for example... Institutions have had to be more creative about the way they're broadening those pathways to support and promoting the resources to make sure A, students know they exist, but also B, they feel empowered to actually access the support. Institutions have worked to reduce stigma through resource promotion as well, and we've seen institutions do this in a number of different ways, there have been a lot of new platforms, as you mentioned, Hailey, that have popped up in the space through the last year. It's platforms such as UA College, which connects students with internal and external mental health support resources, some have amped up their social media efforts and have worked with faculty to incorporate information about mental health resources into their virtual classroom.
0:07:50.9 KC: Clearly, as you mentioned, Hailey and as we discussed, a lot has changed in terms of the support the institutions provide, how they provide it and how they make sure students know that it exists, and reflecting on all this change through our research, we have heard a lot about lessons learned and key takeaways from the last year. I'm curious Hailey this year, which lessons learned that really stuck out to you through our research, and how do you think that'll impact what mental health support looks like on campus this fall?
0:08:22.2 HB: Well, that's a great question Kate and we definitely have started getting more questions about what is next year gonna look like, what are the takeaways we should be taking from our experience over the past year and a half to improve our services moving forward? And I think that that's a great way to think about this. Counseling centers have had to innovate so, so, so much, and I think there's gonna be a lot of positives that come out of that, looking to the future. The first one that comes to my mind is the accessibility piece, the hybrid nature of counseling services that we expect to see moving into the future, so like we kind of touched on a little bit, the virtual format for counseling and other services has really lower barriers to entry for students, and I think we're realizing that this was true even before the pandemic, that there were a lot of barriers that weren't necessarily necessary in order for students to access support. So there's a lot of reasons behind this, maybe it's stigma, you don't have to go to the counseling center and potentially run into peers or stress out about running into peers, so I think a lot of students feel more comfortable accessing counseling in a virtual environment, or it could be convenient.
0:09:35.7 HB: So for example, we've heard a lot of stories about students who perhaps commute to campus and they're gonna find it much easier to do counseling from home than to have to make another trip to campus or try to coordinate their on-campus counting appointments with their counseling, with their class schedule to make it all match up. So I think our takeaway is, in-person counseling will absolutely resume, there are absolutely benefits to in-person counseling, but we really are encouraging people to think about how you can take some of those wins that you had in terms of accessibility and maintain that into the future.
0:10:11.9 KC: Hailey, that's a great point. I also wanted... This is a great place to note that, as you mentioned, virtual formats have been great, but as institutions had to quickly pivot to ensure students could continue accessing mental health support, it just wasn't feasible at the time to focus on ensuring a thorough implementation in existing structures or processes or plan to really use the new data that comes with virtual formats to inform decisions and future service offering, but as institutions look forward and plan to continue in a hybrid format, it's important they revisit that implementation of those new support offerings to ensure they are built into procedures, information about mental health services is up-to-date across formats, key stakeholders are looped into how support is now provided, and they're using that data to really help improve those service offerings for students moving forward. In addition, coming out of this past year, we know the pandemic and trauma has disproportionately impacted different student faculty and staff demographic groups, so if institutions are not already considering how they might identify differences and support needs among those student groups, we're working to target specific resources to those groups based on those needs.
0:11:32.3 KC: Now is a great time to incorporate that proactive planning into well-being strategy for this fall, and Hailey, we've talked a lot about students, switching gears a little bit, what do you think is important for institutions to consider when thinking about mental health support as it relates to faculty and staff?
0:11:51.6 HB: Yeah, that's... I love that you bring that up, Kate, because I think prior to the pandemic, we actually didn't hear a lot of discussion at all about faculty and staff mental health, now, this may be because mental health has typically "Lived with student affairs" and that division doesn't necessarily have the right scope to have an institution-wide initiatives focused on staff mental health, faculty mental health, but that's something that's definitely spiked in the pandemic. I think people are realizing that we can't necessarily ignore faculty and staff mental health anymore, these groups have really suffered as well in terms of their mental health during the pandemic. A lot of the challenges that you brought up at the beginning with what students have been going through, faculty and staff have been going through that as well, and like you brought up, it's not only their own mental health that has been affected by the pandemic, but they're also really worried about student mental health.
0:12:51.9 HB: We know that faculty and staff want to support student mental health, they really care about students, so we've also seen an increased resurgence and interest from that group to be better prepared to support students, they want to make sure that they are equipped to have those conversations with students to identify when a student might be struggling and really know what to do in that situation, whether it's to have a conversation with that student to help connect them with other resources or just reach out to check in with how they're doing. So, I think, moving forward, we're gonna see an increased focus not only on faculty and staff mental health resources for them to support their mental health, but also more resources to make sure that they feel equipped and confident to help support student mental health as well.
0:13:43.1 KC: Yeah, absolutely, that's a great point. And in fact, from that same survey I had mentioned earlier from Boston University, they found that 70% of professors said they want to better understand student mental health issues and would welcome training. So I think that you've described, what we've seen is just a bit of a disconnect between how much faculty and staff really want to help students and help support student mental health but don't really feel like they have enough resources or training to do that. And we've seen many institutions launch initiatives to equip faculty and staff to support student mental health, one example that is coming to mind for me comes from Stanford University. They created what they call a red folder; it is a resource folder for faculty and staff to help them support student mental health. There's a lot of great stuff in there and I highly recommend checking it out. They tackle a lot of the points that Hailey had mentioned, how to navigate difficult conversations, what resources are available, and we will provide a link in the description for you all.
0:14:51.9 HB: Yeah, but that's a great resource, Kate, and I love how they even have sample scripting that faculty can use in a situation where they may want to approach a student. It just makes it feel a lot more achievable for faculty to have that conversation, and it removes a lot of the uncertainty and stress that faculty probably feel around those situations, so I love that resource. And it's also great how that they have adapted that to be online, it's really easy to find. There's a lot of great stuff in that red folder. Okay, so looking forward to the fall, it sounds like we're gonna see a bigger focus on faculty and staff about their own mental health, but also resources for them to support students, as well as counseling centers needing to figure out what hybrid services are gonna look like moving forward for mental health. Another one that I think is really important is thinking about really the return to campus for students. 2020, even if you did have students on campus, looked a lot different on almost every campus, and so we've been hearing a lot about looking to the fall, you're actually having to welcome two freshmen classes, you've got your first year students and your second year students who didn't necessarily have that traditional first year on campus, so that's another area where we anticipate institutions spending a lot of time and energy thinking about how to make sure that goes well.
0:16:15.4 HB: And our big takeaway here is you need to be really intentional about communicating very proactively to these students that mental health matters and that we have support resources to help you, and I think that just making sure that students know that that support exists very early on in their time on campus is super, super important, and not only that the support exists, but why it matters, why might a student need these resources? Because that's another thing that institutions have struggled with across the last year, oftentimes, we have a ton of support resources for students, but how can we make sure that we are really helping connect the dots and helping students see why they might need to take advantage of them, or want to take advantage of them, what are the benefits to engaging with some of these support resources. Okay, and on that more proactive preventative note, Kate, I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about why institutions might take that approach, why we might need to put more effort and investment into those proactive resources, What can institutions do and why should they?
0:17:28.9 KC: Absolutely. Well, I think that through the pandemic, we've definitely seen a greater appreciation for proactive, well-being support, and thinking about mental health as something that kind of belongs under the umbrella of well-being, it's a part of what you need to support as an individual to keep yourself healthy. So we've seen a lot of institutions shift their effort from constantly feeling like they need to put out flyers and feeling like they have to make sure they're investing all of their resources or the majority of their resources in crisis response, although crisis response is important, sometimes it's treating the symptom and not the root cause, and what might be more helpful for students to help prevent them from reaching that point of crisis would be to actually support their mental health and well-being proactively and provide that support more upstream.
0:18:31.9 KC: So as a leader, as a campus leader, we've seen what's been really helpful and effective is to be vulnerable and talk about your own struggles with mental health and talk about how you might utilize resources, and that helps reduce stigma and set the tone on campus that our campus supports these efforts, we support your mental health and well-being, and it's accepted and embraced here. And we've also seen that it's been really helpful for staff who are doing this work, this proactive work, they just need support, they just need support from their campus leaders to continue focusing on these upstream efforts, and one big part of that as we look forward, I think, is data. We've seen, as I mentioned, more institutions shift to virtual services, and with that comes more information and more available data that is right there for institutions and leaders to use to identify which student groups need more support, what kind of resources they would benefit most from, and what channels and formats are the best to reach those students and offer that support.
0:19:48.7 HB: Yeah, absolutely, I think that a big trend in the coming years is going to be... We're gonna see a lot more institutions being more intentional about their proactive resources because we know it's not just about having the resource, it's about promoting it in the most effective way, it's about making sure students see how this is gonna help them, make sure that they can find what they need when they need it. So I think that we're gonna see a lot of attention on that moving forward, and some of the innovations that we've made through the pandemic are gonna help use that process, make it seem actually more achievable than we may have thought of two years ago. Alright, well, I'm sure we're running short on time here, Kate, and I know that you and I could keep talking for hours about this topic as we do so often, but just to sort of recap a little bit and tell our listeners what's coming next from us. I think with the trends that we have seen across the past year and a half are really realization around accessibility of counseling support and how that has been improved with virtual services, so that's something we expect to continue to see into the future.
0:20:54.1 HB: Also, that faculty and staff piece, faculty and staff mental health is going to continue to be an area of focus much more so than it was prior to the pandemic. And then lastly, we're gonna see institutions being really intentional about communicating with students as they return to campus in the fall, that mental health matters, here's the resources we have to support you, and make sure that they feel that the institution supports them. And Kate, you and I will spend really all summer continuing to look into these questions, we are not stopping our research on this topic, and we're excited about what we're gonna learn as we talk with more Presidents, Provosts and Vice Presidents of student affairs about these topics across the summer, so we're really excited to share the insights from that research, looking into the fall and beyond. So Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to be here on the podcast today, and thank you so much to our listeners for being with us today.
0:21:53.9 KC: Thank you.
0:22:02.4 Speaker 1: Thanks for listening. Join us next week when we take a fresh look at ways Higher Ed leaders are re-imagining campus facilities and space planning for a post-pandemic world. Until then, thank you for your time.
Don't miss a beat
Visit our podcast homepage for additional episodes, information on our expert contributors, and more.