The Link Between Student Retention and Mental Health During COVID-19

by Rachel Bishop | August 19, 2020
The Link Between Student Retention and Mental Health During COVID-19

Student Retention and Mental Health During COVID-19

Recently, Signal Vine hosted a webinar with Active Minds, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults. The webinar, led by Laura Horne and Amy Gatto from Active Minds and Nicole Markisohn from Signal Vine, discussed the link between student retention and mental health during COVID-19. You can view the webinar here and the slide deck here.

Below, we’ve included a few key takeaways from the webinar.

student retention and mental health during COVID-191. There is a correlation between student retention and mental health.

Research shows that students with poor mental health may be more likely to...

  • have lower GPAs
  • enroll and drop out in intervals, taking longer to earn a credential
  • drop out completely

Further, students with mental health concerns are twice as likely to leave an institution without graduating. This underscores the importance of effective and accessible mental health resources for students.

student retention and mental health during COVID-19The results of the annual Healthy Minds Study show just how strong the link between student retention and mental health during COVID-19 is. For instance, across all types of campuses, students with mental health concerns were twice as likely to leave an institution without graduating. This holds true even after controlling for prior academic performance and other student characteristics. 

A longitudinal study of dropout rates among students with low GPAs found that 25% of students who showed symptoms of a mental health issue dropped out. Only 9% of students without mental health concerns did so.

Poor mental health can also predict whether students will drop out. The College Life Study found that students who experienced depressive symptoms or were diagnosed with depression in college were more likely to stop out. This suggests that improving student mental health can improve academic performance, persistence, and graduation rates. In effect, investing in student mental health makes good economic and academic sense for institutions.

student retention and mental health during COVID-19

2. Safety and security are top-of-mind concerns for students.

Students say that they are concerned about their own personal safety and security. However, they note that they are even more concerned with the risk that someone they care about might contract the virus. Like many people, students are worried about how long the pandemic will last. Another 40% of students say that they’ve seen race-based discrimination in-person or online. This, too, is stressing them out.

3. Mental health resources need to be more accessible to students.

While students report that their campuses, especially their professors, have been supportive, more than half of students - 60% - note that the pandemic has made it more difficult to access mental health care, according to the Healthy Minds Study and the National College Health Assessment from earlier this year. Further, this past spring, the rate of depression increased among college students. More students report that their mental health has negatively impacted their academic performance. To combat these challenges, students need accessible mental health supports.

4. Higher ed pros need to be proactive in supporting students’ mental health.

Active Minds strongly recommends innovating mental health services. For example, offering telehealth services and promoting them can ensure that students can talk to a professional safely during the pandemic. Active Minds also notes how important it is to adapt mental health services to support high-risk individuals and groups. In turn, this can help students persist and achieve their goals.

Also, Active Minds encourages institutions to normalize the need for help. Urge students to practice self-care and to reach out for help when they need it. Further, check in on students who note they are struggling with their mental health or are displaying signs that they need the help. Warning signs include the following:

  • missing classes, assignments, and/or exams
  • consistently asking for extensions and/or excused absences
  • not responding to outreach
  • statements like “I’m really stressed,” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

5. Practice the Validate, Appreciate, and Refer (V-A-R) method of communicating.

The V-A-R method will help students feel heard, validated, and will ultimately lead to students’ getting the help they need. You can practice this method as you communicate with students and can even use it during text outreach. While practicing the V-A-R method, make sure that you avoid…

  • trying to “fix” the issue before validating the experience
  • being critical or judgmental - seek to understand first
  • using your own experiences to relate before hearing students out
  • saying that it’s not that bad

By using the V-A-R method, you’re helping students feel validated in terms of what they’re going through, appreciated for their courage to talk about their situation, and can refer students to helpful resources.

student retention and mental health during COVID-19

student retention and mental health during COVID-196. Remember your own self-care.

It’s crucial to remember your own self-care as you work to help students. You can model the healthy self-care behaviors that you want your students to adopt. This means that it’s okay to not always be available; it’s okay to say “no” and set boundaries; it’s okay to prioritize your own well-being; and it’s okay to take time for yourself every day.

7. You don’t have to be a mental health expert to offer help.

Many people shy away from touching on students’ mental health because they don’t feel qualified to offer advice. Simply stated, educators do not need to be mental health experts to offer help. Simply using the V-A-R method of outreach and making students feel heard and supported are the only credentials you need to help support your students’ mental health.

Learn more

Active Minds has a number of resources available to help improve student retention and mental health during COVID-19:

If you’d like to learn how AI-powered texting can help you support student retention and mental health during COVID-19, please request a demo of the Signal Vine platform below.

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