Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

The Mental Health Crisis on Campus and How Colleges Can Fix It

Health + Wellness
During the university conference on racial reconciliation, a multi ethnic group listens as a young adult woman speaks. SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

By Marty Swanbrow Becker

When college students seek help for a mental health issue on campus — something they are doing more often — the place they usually go is the college counseling center.


But while the stigma of seeking mental health support has gone down, it has created a new problem: College counseling centers are now struggling to meet the increased demand.

As a researcher who examines problems faced by college students in distress, I see a way to better support students' mental health. In addition to offering individual counseling, colleges should also focus on what we in the mental health field refer to as population health and prevention.

These efforts can range from creating more shared spaces to increase social connections to stave off feelings of isolation, to reducing things on campus that threaten student well-being, such as discrimination and violence.

What’s Behind the Problem

Student mental health distress has escalated to high levels nationally. The American College Health Association found in 2019 that over the past year, 87% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, 66% felt overwhelming anxiety, 56% felt things were hopeless and 13% seriously considered suicide. Contributing factors include distressing and traumatic circumstances during college, such as assaults, in addition to academic performance demands.

The college experience is not the only factor, however. Students are also coming to college with preexisting mental health challenges. For instance, over 80% of students who think about suicide during college had first thought about suicide before college.

Some college campuses may add counseling staff to try to meet the increased demand for counseling centers, but not all campuses can afford to do this. Even if they do, it still might not be enough. Students need alternate ways beyond college counseling centers to address their mental health needs.

By being more proactive and equipping students to deal with mental health issues before they become too large to manage, fewer students will need crisis services — and those that need them will be able to get them sooner — because more students will have the tools to work through their problems earlier on their own.

To improve the overall health of their population of students, here are four areas where I think colleges should focus.

1. Empower Students

Colleges must help students assess their strengths and overall resilience. By empowering students with increased self-knowledge, they can more adeptly identify problems early and access supportive resources. Campuses could help motivate and encourage students to monitor their progress through creating an online portal where students can access tools, such as those promoting skill development in the areas of mindfulness, time management and career reflection. There's such an online portal — known as the Student Resilience Project — at the university where I teach, and results are promising.

2. Provide Stress-Management Resources

Colleges and universities should create processes and tools for students to improve their ability to manage stress. For example, the campus could create a decision tree that helps students identify when and where to reach out to get help with their specific concerns. A web-based portal can tell students where to locate campus-based support services, such as coaches, advisers and counselors, or peer-to-peer education and support and skill-building groups. For an example of a program designed to increase social support in high schools and one that could work for colleges, see the Sources of Strength program.

3. Take Preventive Measures

Research shows that helping many people lower their risk improves the benefit for the larger population more than focusing on those at the highest risk.

This suggests that colleges should look at the factors that are contributing to stress — such as substance use, discrimination, assaults and the pressure around figuring out one's major and career — and then work to reduce their influence. Promoting resources for early intervention in these areas can help students cope with stress and build time management skills.

4. Launch Wellness Campaigns

Colleges should create a wellness campaign. Students, faculty and staff should be trained in how to work together to improve the mental health of everyone on campus, including identifying others in distress, intervening with them and referring them to help. The campus should advertise their vision and initiatives to get the message out to all members of the community. These wellness campaigns are aspirational at the moment, but I am currently working with several colleges to make these campaigns a reality.

When colleges shift their focus to population health and prevention, in my view it should lead to an improvement in the health and well-being of students and free up counseling centers to treat the students most in need of mental health support.

Reposed with permission from The Conversation.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks in the Rose Garden for the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 29 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Just over a month after proclaiming that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon "be down to close to zero," President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on the White House lawn Sunday that limiting U.S. deaths from the pandemic to between 100,000 and 200,000 people would mean his administration and the country as a whole did "a very good job."

Read More Show Less
Dicamba is having a devastating impact in Arkansas and neighboring states. A farmer in Mississippi County, Arkansas looks at rows of soybean plants affected by dicamba. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Documents unearthed in a lawsuit brought by a Missouri farmer who claimed that Monsanto and German chemical maker BASF's dicamba herbicide ruined his peach orchard revealed that the two companies knew their new agricultural seed and chemical system would likely damage many U.S. farms, according to documents seen by The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Washington State has seen a slowdown in the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, for now, suggesting that early containment strategies have been effective, according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.

Read More Show Less
A bushfire burns outside the Perth Cricket Stadium in Perth, Australia on Dec. 13, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP via Getty Images

By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley

2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.

Read More Show Less

By Fino Menezes

Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.

Read More Show Less