Fostering Mental Wellness: What Colleges Can Do

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a moment for colleges across the nation to reflect on their commitment to the well-being of their students. According to Gallup, during the spring 2023 semester, 66% of college students reported feeling stress on a given day with 51% of them expressing they felt worry. In addition, 39% said they endured loneliness and 36% sadness. These survey results showed a stronger feeling of stress among female college students, with 72% saying they felt stress the previous day as compared to 56% of male students. So as a college or university, what are we to do to help our students who are feeling pressure and stress like never before?

Mental health is not a campus-specific issue; it’s a societal concern that demands collective action and support. Regardless of the institution’s name, size, or location, prioritizing mental wellness should be a cornerstone of their mission. As a University President deeply invested in the welfare of students and their mental health, it is evident to me that we need comprehensive strategies which can be put in place that address two fundamental aspects: Access to Mental Health Services and Self-Care and Stress Management.

First, colleges must ensure that mental health support services are not just available but easily accessible to all students. Counseling centers equipped to handle diverse needs and offer a range of progressive solutions, spaces to discuss problems, and action plans on how to deal with the stressors many college students encounter daily are some ways that we can meet the growing need of services available on campus. Colleges can also investigate establishing partnerships with community mental health organizations to expand resources and expertise – as many colleges and universities are key drivers of activity within their surrounding communities. For students on the go, telehealth services can also bridge gaps in accessibility – ensuring no student is left behind or forgotten.

To address the increasing demand for mental health services, colleges can invest in staff training and development. By cultivating a workforce that is not only skilled but also culturally competent and empathetic, institutions can better meet the diverse needs of their student bodies. Moreover, colleges can implement peer support programs and student-led initiatives to create a sense of community and belonging, reducing the stigma associated with seeking help.

Promoting self-care and stress management is essential for nurturing students’ resilience and overall well-being. Colleges can provide education and resources on effective coping strategies, mindfulness techniques, and healthy lifestyle habits. Incorporating wellness programs into the curriculum can empower students to prioritize their mental health alongside their academic pursuits.

During high-stress periods such as finals week, colleges can offer targeted support through wellness workshops, relaxation spaces, and stress-relief activities. Creating a campus culture that values rest and self-reflection fosters a sense of balance and perspective amid the academic hustle.

These efforts don’t only have to happen on campus, in fact, support at home can have far reaching effects on students during this formative time in their lives. Family, friends and loved ones can be educated on the signs of mental health struggles and ways to offer support, creating a network of care that starts at home. Community workshops and informational sessions led by mental health professionals can empower parents and guardians with tools to foster open communication and provide emotional support. Additionally, colleges can collaborate with local organizations to create support groups and resources for families, ensuring they are well-equipped to assist their loved ones. By engaging families and the broader community in mental health initiatives, we can build a more robust support system that reinforces the efforts made on campus and helps students thrive both academically and personally.

Prioritizing mental health wellness should be more than just a buzzword that colleges use, and while it requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses both institutional support and individual empowerment – it will pay off tenfold by creating a campus environment that best meets the needs of the students they serve.

Let us seize this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the well-being of our students and build campuses that prioritize mental wellness as a fundamental human right. After all, this month is about recognizing the need to be aware of how we can all do better.

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