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Research Report

4 lessons learned from EAB's first student mental health and well-being collaborative

August 5, 2022

Across spring 2022, EAB launched the first collaborative for our partners focused on student mental health and well-being. 30 institutions from across the United States and Canada participated in the six-month virtual experience following an EAB-designed curriculum informed by our best-practice research.

Topics covered included equipping academic partners to better support student mental health, fundraising for mental health initiatives, using data to demonstrate the impact of mental health work, and integrating well-being support into key student touchpoints such as relationships with peers, communications with families, and online channels. At the end of the collaborative, participants walked away with concrete next steps for improving student mental health and well-being support on their campus.

Throughout the collaborative, I had the opportunity to facilitate these sessions and converse with our partners who were excited to share their challenges and next steps.

Here are the four things that stood out during my conversations with cohort participants:

1. Institutions are not capitalizing on opportunities and donor interest for supporting mental health initiatives

Currently there is unprecedented philanthropic interest from donors for funding mental health and well-being initiatives, but 51% of collaborative participants reported feeling unprepared to pitch an idea for a mental health or well-being initiative to a donor, and 47% did not feel confident in their understanding of higher education fundraising and how it’s used to support mental health initiatives. Additionally, 22% of collaborative participants had never met with their institution’s advancement team about mental health fundraising opportunities. Clearly, there is greater potential to maximize the impact of student mental health support.

  • 51%

    of participants felt unprepared to pitch a student mental health or well-being initiative idea to a donor

  • 47%

    of participants did not feel confident in their understanding of how higher ed fundraising is used to support mental health initiatives

Student affairs leaders who are partnering with advancement leaders are better equipped to make the most of this rising interest in student mental health support among donors. Our session on fundraising for mental health provided leaders with insight into how they can uniquely partner with advancement leaders to make the most of these fundraising opportunities.

2. Faculty champions need in-depth resources to better support student mental health

While easy-to-use, plug-and-play resources like mental health syllabus statements are popular with faculty, institutions must also develop more in-depth opportunities for those individuals who want to go deeper in supporting student mental health.

For example, at the University of Cincinnati, faculty can apply to be a part of the Mental Health Champions Program. The cohort-based program provides formal, structured training on supporting student mental health for faculty and creates a network of other mental health champions at the university.

While not all faculty are eager to expand their involvement in mental health, those faculty who are interested offer an important way to scale support efforts and integrate resources into additional aspects of student life. Now is the time for institutions to capitalize on faculty looking to grow their involvement to reach students in more ways.

3. Our current mental health strategy fails to target graduate students

Graduate students are more than six times more likely than the general population to experience depression and anxiety, but they haven’t always been reached by mental health outreach. In fact, in a recent survey, only 25% of provosts indicated they are very aware of the state of graduate student mental health.

We saw a similar reality among our own cohort participants: only 40% of collaborative survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that graduate students are aware of mental health services and resources on their campus and only 45% of collaborative respondents agreed or strongly agreed that faculty and staff are aware of mental health resources available to graduate students.

Although they are in need of greater attention and outreach, graduate students have too often been overlooked. Graduate student mental health and well-being remains an area where institutions must do more to ensure students are aware of resources and receive support. This requires that institutions continue to dedicate themselves to providing tailored resources which acknowledge graduate-specific challenges and needs—and then ensure the campus community actually knows about them.

4. Students’ desire for different support options fuels rise of peer support programs

Unprecedented rates of student loneliness, along with a greater willingness among students to discuss their own mental health with peers, presents a critical moment to meet student needs through peer support programs. Institutions across the United States and Canada are increasingly interested in creating and leveraging all types of peer programs—from one-on-one partnerships between peers, to groups, to anonymous virtual support opportunities. These programs offer the unique benefits of scaling mental health support offerings through those already in the campus community and enhancing student feelings of belongingness by forging connections with peers.

Some institutions have already funded thoughtful peer support programs that ensure peer counselors receive appropriate training and support and consider a variety of student needs and preferences. For example, the Wolverine Support Network hosts weekly group meetings where students can connect with peers to support each other’s mental well-being. An algorithm ensures that students that request to join the network are matched into a small group that best matches their individual preferences.

Read more about how institutions are leveraging peer support to better meet student demands for mental health here.