The “Must Have” Course For Colleges That Want to Support Mental Health in Higher Education
As an organization, EVERFI has been tackling the topic of social-emotional learning for quite some time, and now we’re expanding to address mental health in higher education. EVERFI’s course portfolio includes courses like The Compassion Project, for students in grades 2-4, and, most recently, Mental Wellness Basics, designed for students in grades 8-10 to educate them on mental health as an important part of physical health– as well as to enhance their confidence in supporting friends in need, in supporting themselves, and reaching out for help if they need it.
Early data insights from Mental Wellness Basics indicate that it is, indeed, having a positive impact on the mental health of students. After taking the course, students reported being able to better recognize when and how to use coping skills, as well as an increase in knowledge of specific techniques. Additionally, 25% more students reported that they would seek help for a mental health concern without hesitation, and 19% more reported that they felt more confident in knowing how to support someone in need.
For years, we have heard from counselors, educators, college administrators, students, and parents, highlighting the need for a course that could educate college students about the importance of mental health, and how to manage it while at college. That’s why EVERFI, in partnership with The Jed Foundation, has launched it’s newest online offering: Mental Well-being for Students.
The Scope of Mental Health Issues in Higher Education
From development to deployment, and beyond, all of EVERFI’s courses are deeply connected to data. We looked at data and supplemental questions related to mental health that we’d added into existing courses, to get a sense of what needs existed, who students were talking to, how comfortable they were intervening, and comfort around asking for help.
What we discovered about mental health in higher education through this process was illuminating. For instance, a recent study from the World Health Organization found that 35% of incoming college students worldwide have a diagnosed mental health condition. This mirrors EVERFI’s own data set, findings from which suggest that 28% of incoming college students have experienced a depressive episode at least once in the past year, and 42% have, at one time or another, felt so depressed that it was difficult to function (EVERFI, 2018). Additionally, 14% report that they have seriously considered attempting suicide, and nearly 1 in 10 has made a plan for ending their life.
And when it comes to help-seeking, EVERFI’s data indicates that students are most likely to reach out to a friend (45%) or parent (24%) when experiencing stress or emotional challenges. 3% indicate that they are most likely to reach out to a counselor, while 5% indicate that they are most likely to not reach out at all despite the availability of mental health resources on most college campuses.
Additional data from the Healthy Minds Network suggests that most students feel a personal sense of responsibility to help their friends, but perceive that their peers do not feel the same, with. 76% of students believing “I am responsible to help if a friend is struggling”, but only 38% feeling that they were part of a campus that looks out for one another. We know, from research into social norms and stigma, that a students perception of what their peers would do is often a predicting factor in how they themselves would act. This tells us that, even though personal stigma is low, perceived stigma is still very real– and can certainly be a barrier to help-seeking.
Developing Mental Well-Being for Students
As part of our research process, we conducted a comprehensive literature review, analyzing all of the research that we could find on topics like the mental health of students in higher education, population-level mental health, mental health promotion, stigma, thriving, and more. We conducted dozens of partner interviews with institution leaders and college students to hear first hand what they struggle with, what their strengths are, and how an online offering could be most helpful– particularly for those entering college for the first time.
With these things in mind, we needed to:
- Reduce the barriers to access and awareness that prevent students who are struggling from getting help.
- Reduce stigma and normalize mental health as something that everyone has, and as something that is important to take care of.
- Connect students to mental health resources on college campuses and skills designed to foster positive emotional well-being, and we needed to empower students with specific techniques for supporting those that they are concerned about.
By now, many institutions are acutely aware of the importance of mental health– both in providing access and support services to students who are entering our communities with an already existing mental health condition, as well as in providing access, education, and resources to support all students around maintaining their emotional well-being. This course sets out to do both.
About the Course
The 45-minute course features a variety of different modalities to appeal to as many learning styles as possible, including spoken text, interactive coping strategies , video interviews with real college counselors who explain why they meet with students, what challenges students often face, how to support friends in need, and how to take care of yourself while being there for someone else. The course also highlights stories from current college students who are experiencing their own mental health challenges on campus. For one it is seeing a counselor, for another, it is connecting to a group on campus, and for another, it is simply having a friend who offered support.
In developing Mental Well-being for Students, we solidified our approach based on our research and key themes that emerged from interviews with campus professionals and students, as well as from the expertise of subject matter experts in the field who supported the course build. We decided to create a course that would serve multiple purposes. First, we wanted to create an opportunity to validate the experiences of students who experienced mental health challenges in a supportive, non-stigmatizing way, while helping them to gain enhanced strategies for managing their well-being and getting connected to resources.
For students who do not currently struggle with mental health challenges, we wanted them to walk away from the course with a deeper understanding of how to maintain their emotional well-being, strategies to utilize should they be confronted with emotional distress, and indicators to determine when seeking out support from a professional may be helpful should they experience emotional challenges in the future.
Finally, for all students, we wanted to create an opportunity to provide skill-based education on how to support one another from a mental health standpoint, in a way that is appropriate, within the realm of their training and bandwidth as students, and in a way that allows the “helper” to maintain their own emotional well-being.
Mental Well-being for Students features four-course modules, each using a hybrid of text, video, audio, and learner interactivity. Each section also contains at least one custom page so that schools can supplement the course content with their own information, resources, videos, student testimonials, information about affinity groups, or anything else that feels relevant. At any time during the course, students can access a resources tab which includes national resources, school-customized resources, as well as contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Making A Lasting Impact Through Student Engagement
Like many of EVERFI’s other courses, Mental Well-being for Students features a student engagement section which will allow those implementing it to receive the contact information of students who wish to be involved in ongoing efforts around mental health promotion. In this particular course, we have partnered with Active Minds, a national leader in college student well-being, to provide students with information on how to mobilize their efforts around mental health, and how they can get involved in work that is happening nationally in addition to efforts on their own campus.
Actionable, Meaningful Data
With data being such a critical part of the work that EVERFI does, this course is no exception. In addition to a survey designed to measure course impact, the pre-post survey will also include questions from the Healthy Minds Study, allowing institutions to get a sense of the mental health of their campus and add to already contributing campus-wide data resources.
Support Mental Health in Higher Education
As students prepare to head to college, whether for the first time or as a returner, it is critical to think about the ways in which we can best empower them to thrive. By providing students with access to Mental Well-being for Students, institutions can ensure that students are receiving timely, relatable, and impactful content designed to support their mental health, and build a network of support around one another.