How to Redefine Your Investment in the Mental Health of College Students
Now, more than ever, wellness is at the forefront of all that we do. As a society we have spent the last 6-months promoting wellness by maintaining physical distance, wearing masks in public, and washing our hands.
Prioritizing wellness as an antidote to illness has been the root of prevention work for decades. It is increasingly more critical to consider the mental health of college students through the same lens, from preventing illness to empowering students to thrive.
There is a perfect storm of mental health catastrophe brewing and prioritizing the mental health of students will be more critical than ever in the post-COVID world.
- 20% of college students report worsened mental health during the pandemic
- 55% of students don’t know where to seek professional treatment
- 50% of students have experienced a financial set back
- 80% of students report loneliness or isolation
Even more concerning, recently released data from the CDC found that nearly 1 in 4 18-24 year olds have seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.
Colleges and universities must show their commitment to student mental wellness and health by having the right resources in place for students that need them. This includes casting a wide net of support around students—focusing on everything from well-being, social connectedness, financial wellness, and preparedness for academic rigor. Schools that demonstrate robust support for their students’ mental health and success will stand out to prospective students and parents that are prioritizing well-being in their college selection.
A Case Study: Syracuse University
Syracuse decided to apply a Stepped Care Approach with the goal to provide the best care possible for its students and their unique circumstances.
This model allows college students to access mental wellness resources to meet their unique needs. It isn’t linear, so at any time students can enter and move to a different step. By providing points of entry for students across the continuum of mental health, institutions of higher education can ensure that they are meeting the mental health needs of their students at all levels.
The Economics of Mental Health Resources for College Students
While most believe that the mental health of students is important, there is also an economic case for investing in it. The average yearly tuition for college, including room and board, is about $23,000. Existing research has found that students with a mental health condition are twice as likely to leave an institution without graduating, which alone is a compelling economic reason to do what we can do to support these students and increase the likelihood that they persist.
Data suggests institutions that prioritize wellness-related efforts will likely yield a solid return on investment, as explored in this Return on Investment Calculator, developed by the Healthy Minds Network. For example, if an institution chose to invest just $20,000 into prevention efforts to support college student mental health—less than the average cost of tuition room and board for just one student—they could retain 300 students and yield $3.1 million in tuition revenue.
3 Steps to Promote the Mental Wellness of College Students
1. Focus on Basic Needs
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified many students’ struggles to meet basic needs. Consider the whole student and put structures and practices in place at an institutional level to be able to support them: emergency funds, food pantries or access, and, in some instances, even case management.
2. Make Student Mental Health Part of Your Bottom Line
Now is the time to invest in meeting the mental health and wellness needs that we know college students are facing. Invest or re-investing in telehealth, working with health insurance companies to ensure mental health care access regardless of a students physical location, and allocating funding for upstream, prevention-related efforts focused on holistic mental health of college students.
3. Recognize the Interconnectedness of DEI and Mental Health
Ensure that counselors are trained in cultural competency and that counseling center staff are representative of the demographic make-up of the student body. Start or continue to offer therapeutic groups specifically for students of color with a focus on self-care and self-preservation. Also, educate students and staff on how to be effective allies and encourage counselors and administrators –especially those who are white-identifying–to also do their own anti-racism work.