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Everyone has a role to play in student mental health

4 ways to improve mental health support across your campus

September 8, 2022, By Matt Mustard, Senior Director, Student Success

Recent surveys and studies drive home what counselors already understand: they’re in high demand but under immense pressure. One study found that approximately 70% of counseling centers are trying to fill open positions. And that’s no wonder, considering that counselors have a burnout rate of 90%.

Despite the squeeze counselors feel, administrators don’t necessarily agree: a separate survey found that two-thirds of college and university presidents felt they had the capacity to meet the mental health needs of undergraduate students.

This disconnect between counselors and leadership may stem from a misunderstanding of how the full campus community can support student mental health, taking some of the burden off counselors. Faculty and staff play a vital supplemental role, but it takes awareness and effort to bring them into the support ecosystem.

4 tips to broaden campus mental health support

1. Ensure all staff understand their role

Traditionally, the person assigned to “fix” student mental health on campus is either the Chief Student Affairs Officer or Counseling Center Director. But everyone on campus has a role to play, and defining those roles is key to making headway. All staff (and students, too) should understand their roles and responsibilities.

For example: Who initiates conversations when students need help? Who follows up on support requests and alerts? What do support activities include? When and how should they close the loop? Answering these questions likely means collaborating with your Counseling Center, Legal Counsel, and Chief Academic Officers.

Only trained mental health staff should diagnose or provide treatment. But beyond direct support, staff and faculty can play a critical role in fostering a campus environment that facilitates access to mental health resources. Start by giving them guidance on what this role is.

Communicate intentionally

Throughout this process, the way you talk to students is critical. Learn more about the importance of inclusive, asset-based, communication in this blog post.

2. Start conversations early and sustain them throughout a student’s journey

Information about mental health resources should be available to students as early as possible. In fact, it may be a key factor that sets your institution apart from comparable schools. Admissions conversations with prospective students and their families have increasingly focused on mental health across the past two years. Include mental health resources and information about your support approach in enrollment conversations. Educate your admissions counselors to discuss mental health support in-depth if prospects have questions. In an increasingly competitive enrollment landscape, if you’re not proactively meeting this need, another institution will!

Consider other ways students regularly engage with your institution. Can you add a mental health or resiliency-based module alongside your other onboarding content in your LMS? This makes it easier for students to find the resources they need while demonstrating that your institution cares about their well-being.

Build well-being into the curriculum

Georgetown’s Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning helps faculty build health and well-being topics into courses across the University. For example, an Introduction to Math Modeling course touches on substance abuse, addiction, and healthy relationships with food and exercise by incorporating data sets relevant to those topics.

3. Make it easy for faculty and staff to provide resources

Sending easily sharable resources to faculty and staff during the busiest times on campus-along with information about what students might struggle with at certain times-will equip staff to help students in the moment. Stanford University’s Red Folder is a great example of this work. They teach faculty what behaviors to be mindful of, provide basic scripting and follow-up steps, and ensure that faculty stay in touch with students past the point of referral.

Create change champions

For faculty who want to be more involved, some institutions develop a champions program. Learn about this and more findings from EAB’s Spring 2022 student mental health and well-being collaborative.

Beyond faculty, consider how to share information with residence life and campus safety officers. If you aren’t collaborating with staff who are on duty outside class hours, you’re missing a huge portion of student need.

Video: See One Story Of Campus Safety’s Role In Student Mental Health

4. Leverage technology to facilitate ongoing support

Student-facing technology is a great way for students to connect with resources and support. Beyond self-service access to resources, you can use intake survey questions (pictured below) to ask students if they’d like to perform specific actions, such as opting into more information about your mental health offerings, joining a peer wellness cohort, or learning about peer mentor training programs.

MH intake survey

Make sure you’re listing your counseling center, peer mentor program, or gatekeeper suicide prevention training in the resource section of student portals, apps, or hubs to help normalize a focus on wellness across the student journey. Periodic notifications and personalized messages through a Student Success Management System can also keep mental health resources top of mind.

How 3 Schools Are Leveraging Peer Support For Mental Health

Be present

As a student, I struggled with my mental health. I didn’t see myself in the sparse communications about services on campus. I didn’t trust that the things I struggled with would be discussed or understood. A broader effort to make me aware of the resources available would have made a big difference to me and to my experience in school.

More than anything else, students want you and your staff to be present and show that you care. This means creating an environment that equips all campus community members to support student mental health.

Matt Mustard

Senior Director, Student Success

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