How to Help College Students with Mental Health Issues
October houses Mental Illness Awareness Week. Designated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the week is dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s a great opportunity to talk about mental health, but the importance of having these conversations extends even beyond Mental Illness Awareness Week.
For college and university leaders, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about addressing mental health in schools, and how to help students with mental health issues.
In our Student Retention Guidebook, we cite that today’s college students are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Many feel a sense of doubt in themselves, and often feel a lack of belonging on campus. These feelings, along with the regular stressors of college, can place a huge burden on students and make it more important than ever to focus on supporting students’ mental health.
We have some steps college staff can take to check in and start helping students with mental health issues.
Understanding the Scope of Students’ Mental Health Issues
A quarter of today’s college students have a diagnosable mental health issue. 80% of those students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and an alarming 40% never seek help for their mental health issues. Many of them feel too embarrassed, or even ashamed to ask for help. However, these are often the students who need help the most.
The good news is that some colleges are now beginning to understand the importance of addressing mental health in schools and they’re starting to prioritize students’ mental health issues. According to a survey conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE), more than 80% of top university executives note that supporting students’ 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 starting to get creative. One president in the ACE survey reported that their college is spending $15 million on a “comprehensive student well-being building.”
Supporting students with mental health issues and providing them with access to mental health resources doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollar project, however. In fact, for higher ed institutions, texting with students can be a great place to start.
Texting to Help Students with Mental Health Issues
It can be beneficial in identifying and addressing the mental health needs of students for college staff to be proactive and reach out. Simply checking in with students via text to let them know that they have resources available to them — and how to access those resources — can help students feel less alone and overwhelmed.
Furthermore, when staff choose to begin the conversation, students might feel less shame or embarrassment about looking into their options for mental health support. In fact, our partners have consistently told us that students seem far more comfortable texting than chatting in person, even when it comes to private matters like mental health.
Here are some ways to start these important conversations through texting.
General Reminders of Support & Resources
Should students need help with their mental health issues, it’s important that they know where to go or where they can find support. Introducing these on-campus resources early in the semester can give students who might be struggling a sense of confidence, and hopefully encourage them to seek help when they need it.
General reminders about available resources could include: mentions of the institution’s counseling center, or a link to a landing page of a comprehensive list of the institution’s on-campus resources for supporting students’ mental health. These could include student-run initiatives, support groups, or other resources sanctioned by the institution. It’s crucial that students know about all their options.
General Check-Ins About Mental Health
Sometimes, the best way to help students with mental health issues is to start the conversation. Staff can text students just to check in and see how they’re doing, and this can open the door for students to voice concerns or ask for help when they might not have wanted to before.
The opening text can stay generic and open-ended, giving the student the chance to take control of the conversation and steer it in the direction they need. They might not ask for help right away, but if it’s clear they’re struggling, staff can always reintroduce on-campus mental health resources.
Letting Students Start the Conversation About Mental Health
Texting is the most effective when the conversation can flow both ways — staff can reach out to students, and students can reach out to staff. Some institutions might consider letting students text a sort of mental health hotline, connected to the counseling center or another office that can offer support for mental health issues. Giving students the control to ask for help exactly when they need it can be powerful encouragement.
Follow-Ups Supporting Students with Mental Health Issues
Often if a student is struggling, or they’re feeling overwhelmed, reaching out for help and support isn’t the last step in the process. That initial conversation is usually only the first step.
For students that have reached out, gotten in touch with staff, or set up on-campus counseling appointments, it’s important for staff to follow up with these students. This way, staff and their institution can ensure that these students are getting the help they need and they’re doing what they can overall to address mental health concerns.
This is also a great chance to give students another reminder of the resources available to them. College can be such a busy time that students sometimes let their help and wellness fall by the wayside, even if they’ve already reached out for support. By reiterating the resources available to them, staff can help students continue to help themselves.
Start the Conversation About Students’ Mental Health
It’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s an important one, and Signal Vine’s texting platform makes addressing mental health in schools just that much easier. If you want to learn more about how mental health is impacting our communities and institutions, check out our webinar, Mental Health as the Community Re-opens. And when you’re ready to optimize mental health communication on your campus, request a demo.
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