How to Help Students with Mental Health Issues
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Designated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this week is dedicated to ending the stigma that surrounds mental illness. It’s a great opportunity to talk about mental health. For college and university leaders, it's also the perfect time to talk about how to help students with mental health issues.
If you downloaded our Student Retention Guidebook, you may remember reading that today’s college students are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Further, many are self-doubting and often feel a lack of belonging on campus. These symptoms along with the regular stressors of college can place a burden on the mental health of college students.
Luckily, there are steps that college staff can take to help students with mental health issues.
How is the mental health of today’s students being impacted?
A quarter of today’s college students have a diagnosable mental health issue. Alarmingly, 40% of these students fail to seek help. A whopping 80% of these students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, which echoes the sentiment in our retention discussion. Many students are often too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help. Often, these students are the very students who need the help the most.
The good news is that colleges are now beginning to prioritize students’ mental health. According to a survey conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE), more than 80% of top university executives note that mental health is a bigger priority now than it was even three years ago. To help students keep their mental health in check, colleges and universities are being creative. One president in the ACE survey reported that their college is spending $15 million on a “comprehensive student well-being building.”
But providing students access to mental health resources doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollar project. In fact, texting students is a great starting point for higher ed institutions.
Texting to help students
It can be beneficial for college staff to be proactive and reach out to students. Simply checking in with them via text to let them know that they have resources available to them can help students feel less isolated and overwhelmed. Further, if staff choose to text students to begin the conversation, this conversation may feel less awkward for students as they evaluate their options to get help. In fact, our partners have consistently told us that the consensus from students is that they’re far more comfortable texting than chatting in-person, even about private matters.
Here are some examples of how to start these important conversations via text.
A general reminder
Introducing students to on-campus resources early in the semester can help them know where to go from the beginning should they need help. This general reminder might include a link to a landing page on the institution’s website that lists on- and off-campus resources for mental health and overall wellbeing. The institution’s own mental health resources, such as a counseling office, can also be introduced in this text.
A general check-in
Staff can text students simply to check in with them. You can keep this text very generic and word it in such a way that students can take control of the conversation. This will open up the door for them to reach out if they need help and support.
Letting students text in
Some colleges and universities might consider letting students text in to begin the conversation. Staff might distribute flyers on campus with the number so students can send staff a text whenever they need to. This option to text staff at any time will assure students that help is available whenever they need it.
Of course, the conversation with students is far from over just because they leave campus. Staff should be sure to follow up with students, especially those feeling overwhelmed, to make sure things are getting better. This will help students remember they have on-campus resources to help them with challenges.
You can learn more best practices to support your students by checking out our Resources page.
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