Over the past several years, there has been growing conversation focusing on American colleges struggling to meet the demand of student counseling needs, as well as managing and responding to students in crisis. As schools report increasing numbers of counseling requests, the staffing and budget limitations are some reasons for making it unmanageable to meet the overall needs. As a result, schools are steadily relying on community mental health providers to support their campus population.
In regard to student mental health, college years (undergrad & postgrad) present as some of the most vulnerable, as young adults are beginning to manage much more on their own, adapting to new environments, while working to understand and define their identity and purpose. For some, this becomes too much and creates serious challenges, while needing added support to help them through.
I was encouraged by a recent STAT News online chat that focused on college mental health. As a provider in greater Boston MA, some of my work is with students and families. I'm including some things to consider for students, faculty/admin, and families upon entering the fall semester.
+ Start early - before arriving to school, or early in the semester, research and interview therapists/coaches that may be a good fit, are close to school, and right for your budget. It helps to have someone in place rather than scrambling to find a suitable provider when need is greatest.
+ College counseling centers may be the first step to assist with referrals. For those preferring to research themselves, websites like PsychologyToday.com (throughout the U.S.), and TrySophia.com (for Boston area), are a few of multiple search options online.
+ Keep in mind, school counseling centers usually only offer a few sessions before referring students to community providers who can offer longer-term support.
+ Therapy/Coaching may be new to you. Reaching out before challenges become overwhelming is key. This can help in many areas, including self-care, academic and social concerns, as well as potentially avoiding a higher level of treatment, or temporary medical leave from school.
+ Find a provider that is a good fit, while able to work with your schedule and needs – while also supporting you so you’re not going through the experience completely on your own. Also, if you would like to have the option for video/phone support, this should be discussed.
+ Research shows that family/network involvement is significant with good outcomes. The level of involvement could be discussed with your provider.
Some signs that it may be helpful to reach out to a professional would be:
+ Notable changes in mood, anxiety, loneliness, social withdrawal, sleep, intrusive thoughts, spiritual disruption, self-care, over an extended period of time (1.5 weeks +)
+ Active thoughts, plans, and actions, regarding harm to self, others, or suicide.
+ Using harmful amounts of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, technology, to distract and fill the void of deeper personal experiences.
Mental health setbacks can happen to anyone. Be aware of moments when thinking, I’ve got this under control, it won’t happen to me, my daughter, son, or friend.
Additional thoughts regarding support:
+ Share your concerns – with a family member, a friend, a therapist, advisor or professor. Going through it alone is often not helpful.
+ On-campus support groups are often led by peers, who have their own lived experiences.
+ If you notice a student may be going through a difficult time, or doesn’t seem like their usual self, a gentle approach of asking could make a difference, while letting them know you’ve noticed, care, and want to help.
+ If you’re trying to help someone through a difficult time, getting support and guidance for yourself, from a peer or professional, is recommended.
+ Recognize, Respond, Create a Network – This is Cornell University’s approach to helping students in distress.