Last week we talked about the rise in mental health challenges in higher education, specifically on college campuses. With 14% of college students saying they dropped out of college due to mental health issues, the need for help is there. However, tackling the issue is more complex than just offering more counselors and encouraging students to make appointments for 1:1 help. Because of this, campus administrators are starting to find more unique ways to reach students who may be struggling.
Peer-to-Peer Counseling/Student Mental Health Organizations
College administrators are noticing that students may feel more comfortable discussing their problems with their friends and peers, who can often relate. TimelyMD states, “A peer counseling program can remove a barrier to support for students who may not feel comfortable visiting their campus counseling center. Of the students who used peer counseling services, nearly 60% called it helpful. And, eighty-two percent of students who have peer counseling at their institutions understand that it’s able to serve students of various backgrounds and identities.”
Administrators are also seeing it as an introduction to more specialized, professional mental health services. “Peer relationships on college campuses transcend barriers that typically keep students from beneficial support services. Peer-to-peer support programs operate with lower costs than models solely reliant on professional mental health staff, while offering one-to-one support to increase student success, health, and well-being. They also help to destigmatize the perceived complexity of mental health services, making care easier for students to access anytime, anywhere.”
Project RISE at the University of Virginia “is a peer counseling service that was established in 2006 by a small group of Black students. It is a university-sponsored program that provides free, one-on-one, confidential services to enrolled University of Virginia students. Counselors deliver a supportive service in an atmosphere where students can openly talk about their thoughts and feelings. Students decide which problems or uncertainties they want to work on and, with the help of the peer counselor, they begin problem solving at their own pace.”
Active Minds is a peer organization at Harvard that works alongside the university’s health services department. “Active Minds works collaboratively with CAMHS, the Harvard administration, and student communities to promote awareness of issues and improve accessibility to resources related to mental health and wellness. In an effort to do so, Active Minds strives to reduce stigma surrounding mental health and engage in outreach to address the specific needs of various communities on campus.”
While peer-to-peer counseling is an essential need for addressing mental health problems on campus, it is typically only a stepping stone to professional counseling services. Most campuses have traditional forms of counseling where students can seek out advice from a trained professional that is either covered by tuition, health insurance.
Tufts University has a Counseling and Mental Health Services department allowing students to make appointments online Monday-Friday during regular business hours.
Merrimack College provides a range of confidential counseling services on campus, including:
- Short-term, individual counseling services
- Group counseling, offered by topic
- Crisis intervention, assessment and evaluation
- Consultation to parents, students, faculty and staff who have concerns for a student
- Assessment and referrals for specialized services, psychiatric care or long-term counseling.
- Training and outreach programs on various topics of health and wellness
Digital Mental Health Services
Campuses across the country are responding to the need for wider access to mental healthcare by digitizing counseling services. As Todd Sevig, Ph.D., director of the University of Michigan’s Counseling and Psychological Services said, “the energy of our student body is fantastic around mental health — energy in advocacy, providing peer support, and providing peer education efforts. And involving a mix of "in-person" support as well as using technology — apps, online supports, phone supports, that are all available when students need them, 24/7.”
Wellness First Approach
While offering services on campus to help treat mental illnesses is essential to the wellbeing of students, it’s important to promote wellness first, so mental illness doesn’t have the chance to even reach some students.
Ohio State recognized this need and developed the Ohio State: Wellness App. “Students can use the app to create their own “wellness plan” and access timely content, such as advice for managing stress during final exams. They can also connect with friends to share articles and set goals—for instance, challenging a friend to attend two yoga classes every week for a month. OSU’s apps had more than 240,000 users last year.”
If you are in need of mental health services, please seek out your campus counseling department or visit the NAMI HelpLine at: https://www.nami.org/help