5 Creative Ways Colleges Are Making Mental Health a Priority
With an influx of students using college mental health services, many, if not most, schools are struggling to meet the demand.
For college students facing mental health challenges, these services could be pivotal for getting that degree. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, more than 45 percent of those who stopped attending college in the United States due to mental health issues didn’t receive accommodations. But the scarier stakes are life and death — out of the 69 U.S. student suicides reported in 2013, 80 percent of the students had not sought counseling.
It’s no easy feat, but some universities have found effective and even creative ways to lower the barrier of care:
Here are five universities that deserve a shout-out for taking action to hopefully improve the well-being of students:
1. Cornell University
For students who don’t feel like scheduling another appointment into their already hectic lives, Cornell University provides walk-in counseling services Monday through Friday for a few hours each day. The initiative, called Let’s Talk, even allows students to see a short bio of the counselor they’ll be talking to. Schedules are posted online and appointments are first-come, first-served. While these drop-in sessions can’t replace formal counseling, they’re great for students who need help addressing a specific problem now, or who are curious about what it’s like to talk to a counselor.
Gregory Eells, Associate Director of Cornell University’s Gannett Health Services, said in a country without a true mental health system, it’s challenging to address the needs of such a high-risk population. Let’s Talk works because it meets the needs of this generation.
“How do you reach as many people as you can?” Eells asked The Mighty. “For a whole group of college student who were raised using Google, accessibility and speed are an important factor.”
Although Let’s Talk started at Cornell, the model is being used at a number of colleges, including the University of Vermont and the University of Notre Dame.
2. Drexel University
This summer, Drexel University became the first American college to install mental health kiosks on campus. The touch-screen devices are stationed in the student Recreation Center. The placement is intentional, according to Anna Gibbons, secretary of Drexel’s Active Minds chapter who was involved in the initiative.
“We put the kiosks in the gym to send a message that your health is more than lifting weights,” Gibbons told The Mighty. “It’s also about taking care of your mind.”
Each screening involves answering 10 to 15 questions, covering anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or eating disorders, according to Drexel Now. All of the screenings are also available online.
Gibbons said curiosity has been a big factor in getting students to use the kiosks. Students go to find out what the kiosks are, and end up getting information about their own mental health.
3. University of California – Berkeley
When students wanted to expand mental health services at UC-Berkeley, they took matters into their own hands. Students voted in April to add a $146 wellness fee to their tuition, replacing a $93.50 fee for recreational sports costs.
Madison Gordon, who advocated for the referendum, told The Mighty it wasn’t too hard to convince students to pay more for expanded mental health services. The fee increase was approved overwhelmingly with 7,308 students voting in favor to 2,950 opposed, The Huffington Post reported.
“It’s not an insignificant among of money,” Gordon told The Mighty. “But this is something that students cared about, and they were willing to pay.”
The new fee will expand hours for on-campus counseling services on evening and weekends, help fund classes on nutrition and stress management and increase sexual assault survivor advocacy, Gordon said.
4. The University of Sioux Falls
The University of Sioux Falls is one of the first South Dakota colleges to have access to Text4Hope, a free crisis texting hotline for students.
Texts will be answered by members of the Helpline Center, a non-profit created to help people connect to resources and support.
“The program offers a way for students to reach out for help in a way that’s anonymous,” Lori Montis, Suicide and Crisis Support Director of the Helpline Center, told The Mighty. “Maybe they don’t want to talk to their family or friend. Hopefully the texting hotline can provide help that’s non-judgmental.”
While USF offers onsite counseling centers, Montis said having another kind of resource will encourage more students to get help when they need it.
5. University of Northern Iowa
For when students needs help and the counseling center is closed, The University of Northern Iowa Counseling Center launched an after-hours service to make on-call counseling available to students 24/7.
Previously, any after-hour counseling calls went though campus police, David Towle, the Northern Iowa Counseling Center Counseling Center director, told The Mighty. He said this probably intimidated students and deterred them from seeking help. Now, through a company called ProtoCall, students can talk to a counselor on the phone at literally anytime.
“There’s a need for students to get professional help outside office hours; a lot of issues can creep up on the weekend or the middle of the night,” Towle told The Mighty. “It’s not always effective to wait until the next morning.”
Towle said it cost the university about $12,000 a year to bring the service to students, but that funding the project was only a matter of shifting shifting priorities in the budget. As a mid-size state university in a relatively small community, there aren’t a lot of community services available for students.
“As a school, the philosophy is we want to do things to help the students be successful,” Towle said. “Effectively helping their mental health concerns is a big part of this.”
How does your school handle students’ mental health concerns?