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Supporting Mental Health in College

Supporting Mental Health in College

  • Posted at Sep 22, 2021
  • Written by Jessica Jarrett

Many young adults feel that the normal pressures of college combined with the pandemic have had a negative effect on their education and significantly harmed their mental health. According to a 2020 survey by BestColleges.com, 95% of college students experienced negative mental health symptoms and 46% reported feeling more isolated and lonelier since the start of the pandemic. Many reported sleeping less, feeling more anxious and depressed, and 32% experienced feelings of hopelessness. With most colleges opening their campuses and returning to in-person learning, efforts must be made to support positive mental health and to help students heal, process, and recover from past events.

How to support positive mental health.

Across the nation, college administrations are looking for ways to support mental health and increase the mental health services that are provided. Colleges are adding recreational options and providing additional offerings in counseling centers and are fostering a sense of togetherness while practicing social distancing. Here are additional steps that can be taken to support mental health:

  • Promote telehealth services. With anxiety and depression increasing among students, it is important that colleges maintain and promote telehealth services. Three out of four students are open to using telehealth services for mental health counseling and the majority who have used them were satisfied. As some students do not know where to go for support, schools need to raise awareness about the in-person and virtual resources available. This can be accomplished through information sessions in dormitories and other student spaces, posting information in public spaces, or having information dispersed via email.
  • Support staff and faculty well-being. Faculty and staff are not immune to anxiety, stress, and emotional difficulties. A primary way to support students is by supporting college faculty and staff who are often on the frontlines with students. Leadership can aid in this effort by realigning expectations for productivity and increasing flexibility as faculty and staff maneuver their work and home life so they can effectively participate in mental health recovery efforts for students.
  • Adapt and innovate mental health services. Recent events have proven that there is a need to re-establish a sense of safety across college campuses; however, individuals and groups may be reluctant to seek mental health services. Schools might consider providing diverse formats to accommodate individuals such as having clinicians in residence halls, academic departments, offices, and student services areas; discussion and support groups; traditional clinical support; continued telehealth and other technology-based options; peer support; and education and programming that normalizes post-pandemic and racism-related grief, and the recovery process.
  • Embed courses with well-being practices. Faculty and staff are key facilitators of students’ sense of belonging and connection to the college campus and community. Professors can build opportunities for reflection and processing by integrating practices and expectations that promote well-being. This can include beginning class with a mental health check-in, promoting self-care, and avoiding late-night deadlines.
  • Support student-driven programming and maintain opportunities for social connection. Students value the opportunity to connect with peers, and many students have suffered during the pandemic due to the loss of social connection. Supporting and strengthening social connection efforts facilitates student growth through their residential, extra-curricular, and non-academic experiences.
  • Establish a sense of routine and develop a plan. Returning to a routine is helpful for healing; however, leaders must anticipate the lasting impact of the pandemic and remain sensitive to those who are distressed. Developing a plan across campus that is flexible and available to support students who need it can offer a sense of calm and eliminate the uncertainty.

Strengthening mental health.

Living with mental illness can be challenging, but resilience gives someone the ability to adapt to the challenges that accompany this. Having resilience does not imply that someone will not experience difficulties; however, by harnessing inner strength, individuals can begin to feel empowered and learn from their experiences. As students return to college, the American Psychological Association is recommending these strategies to become more resilient:

  • Build a strong, supportive network. Some college students experience social isolation or loneliness. Forming new relationships and relying on trustworthy friends for emotional support will alleviate the loneliness and foster a sense of belonging.
  • Foster wellness. Self-care is one of the most important activities that can be practiced to build resiliency. Research has proven that proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise can strengthen the body to adapt to stress and reduce anxiety or depression symptoms. Activities such as mindfulness, yoga, journaling, and meditation can add a positive aspect to individuals’ lives and aid in restoring hope.
  • Be proactive. Acknowledging and accepting emotions during a difficult time can help foster self-discovery and develop a sense of motivation and purpose.
    Accept change. Becoming a young adult is part of the next phase of life. Accepting the changes that come with adulthood and letting go of unchangeable circumstances help keep the mind healthy and focused on the things that can be controlled.
  • Be positive. Sometimes it may seem difficult to be positive, but an optimistic outlook can be empowering. Try to visualize what is wanted instead of focusing on what is feared. Along the way, note the small ways that create a positive shift in mood.

Most importantly, getting help when needed is vital to building resilience. Many people will often use their resources, but sometimes more is needed. At Yellowbrick, we specialize in the treatment of emerging adults who are struggling and their families. Our treatment model is guided by an understanding of the essential developmental challenges of emerging adulthood:

  • Separateness with identity integration and coherence
  • Self-regulation
  • Life-skill competence and beginning actualization of ambitions
  • Interpersonal effectiveness with a spectrum of peer and romantic intimacy
  • Development and maintenance of a support community
  • Connected autonomy with the family

Treatment at Yellowbrick represents the start of establishing a life plan corresponding to individual needs, while supporting individuals in the difficult, often risky and painful, process of change and growth.

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