What makes college the most stressful time of life for so many students?
How can college teachers and administrators better identify with the struggles of students?
How can we improve campus mental health?
These are some of the questions educators and administrators around the world ask themselves regularly.
There's been an increased focus on student mental health in recent years. However, achieving good campus mental health isn't just about getting students to help; it's also about creating an environment that doesn't drive people to seek out help in the first place.
If you want your campus to foster emotional well-being, you need to create an environment where people feel comfortable seeking support, are aware of the support available to them, and trust that the support staff can be kept confidential.
Campus mental health: The importance of curriculum design, learning environment
In 2020 a survey of higher education students and staff in 10 countries, including the UK, USA, Netherlands, France, Spain, Australia, and Nordic countries, found that 76% of students and 73% of the staff struggled to maintain their well-being.
According to a Healthy Minds survey, students who struggle with mental health concerns are twice as likely to drop out.
An ongoing mental health crisis is likely to have an impact on student retention rates and lead to a decrease in student involvement.
Depression and anxiety can be real concerns among children and adolescents, and they often coexist.
However, in recent years, there has been increasing research on students' mental health issues and how to support them.
So far, different universities have taken steps towards creating healthier campuses by altering activities such as morning meetings, social media usage policies, and interprofessional team-based learning opportunities.
In India, Ashoka University in Sonipat has a Centre for Well-Being, where students can book appointments and meet a counsellor.
Ambedkar University in Delhi has a clinic named Ehsaas, which helps students, staff, and children from nearby schools with psychological and behavioural problems.
Similarly, other institutions have similar facilities for counselling and mentoring students and faculty members who may be dealing with depression and stress-related issues.
Despite these noteworthy examples, experts suggest that school mental health programmes must shift from a piecemeal approach to a long-term comprehensive approach if we want results. Educational institutions must demonstrate a genuine culture of care.
To create a mentally healthy campus, institutions must actively work to change their curriculum and learning environments.
How to begin improving campus mental health
It's important to identify where you'll need support when creating a mentally healthy campus. For example, do you want to help students, faculty and staff learn more about stress and anxiety? Do you want to offer group activities and workshops that will increase social awareness? Do you want to foster communication between diverse groups on campus so that people don't feel isolated or left out?
Think about who needs support on your campus, then look at your existing services and determine what gaps need to be filled.
Here are some tips on how to create a mental health-friendly campus
Increase and promote safety
Campus safety is one of the most important things students look at when choosing a college.
Encourage students to understand that they are not alone and there are resources on campus to help if they feel like they may be in an unsafe situation or someone else might be at risk of harm.
Encourage student organisations to create programmes aimed at educating their members about how to identify issues with fellow students before they become dangerous situations.
Also, look into your security department and see what services are offered on campus for those who feel unsafe.
- Does your university have walking escorts?
- Security escort vehicles?
- Residence hall security available 24/7?
Create stress-free zones
The most important thing you can do to create a mentally healthy campus is to create stress-free zones. A stress-free zone is any space that allows people to decompress and connect with others in more casual, relaxed ways. They allow students to help one another through informal conversations rather than formal counselling appointments and can take many forms.
Think of community art centres, green spaces, meditation rooms or designated spots on campus where students who feel overwhelmed can have quiet time.
Launch mental health awareness campaigns
In addition to college counselling and university resources, students can become actively involved in supporting their peers' mental wellness by initiating campaigns around campus.
One way to do so is to design public service announcements that raise awareness about common signs of stress and encourage students to reach out for help.
For example, encouraging friends who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts or threatening behaviour or suggesting ways they can seek support from campus counsellors.
Create health and wellness departments
Colleges should create an environment in which students feel comfortable reaching out to their peers, professors, counsellors, psychologists, and so on.
To help facilitate interactions between these professionals and students (and vice versa), it's a good idea to set up designated spaces on campus where students can go for informal discussions about any concerns they might have regarding stress or anxiety. You can also organise seminars that discuss common mental health concerns such as depression or test anxiety.
Develop peer support programmes online and offline
If your school doesn't already have these, you should create them. If they do, but they're not well-known, or they're underutilised, then that's also something you should fix.
Peer support programmes help connect students who might be experiencing difficulties with mentors and role models who have been through similar experiences and can give them insights about how to get through their challenges.
Peer support programmes are just as effective as professional mental health services in many cases and can offer more affordable options for those who otherwise couldn't afford counselling services.
Student mental health: being proactive matters
In order to encourage students' physical and mental well-being, college campuses need to ensure ample resources are available on-site.
The availability of free and confidential counselling services and the ongoing education about anxiety and depression can help ensure every student can take care of themselves.
Asking students what they need makes it clear that no one person can provide support alone.
It's up to everyone in higher education—students, faculty, staff and administrators—to pay close attention to campus mental health.