Student management

How Universities Can Support Student Mental Health and Wellbeing – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article is brought to you through The European Sting’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Razan Roberts, Senior Director, Strategic Engagement and Communications,

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues among many students.
  • Educational institutions should respond to the mental health and well-being issues facing students.
  • 70% of college presidents rate student mental health as their most pressing issue.

Mental health and wellness issues on college campuses are on the rise. In just six years, student anxiety in higher education institutions has risen from 17% to 31%, according to a study by the Healthy Minds Network and the American College Health Association. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue to the fore. University students in 2020 reported rapid spikes in anxiety and depression, with 60% of students saying the pandemic has made it more difficult to access mental health care.

Overall, the story is no different. In 2020, surveyed higher education students and staff in 10 countries, including the UK, US, Netherlands, France, Spain, Australia and Nordic countries. 76% of students surveyed said they struggled to maintain their wellbeing, as did 73% of staff.

According to a Healthy Minds survey, students struggling with mental health issues are twice as likely to drop out. Research suggests that the ongoing mental health crisis is likely to affect student retention rates and lead to lower student engagement. To remedy this, educational institutions must demonstrate a true culture of care.

Educational outcomes and mental health issues

Welfare issues are often multifaceted for students and staff. Problems include family issues, financial difficulties, feelings of isolation, social pressures, anxiety, and study-related stress.

While higher education leaders have put in place measures to help stem the tide, much more needs to be done. Fortunately, for many university leaders, this is a priority issue. The American Council on Education reports that 70% of college presidents say their most pressing issue is student mental health. The mental health of faculty and staff is also a major concern. Among staff, pandemic-induced hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs are causing burnout. Many professors have even said that the pandemic has made them think about taking early retirement or quitting teaching altogether.

Innovative ways to improve student well-being

To enable students to thrive academically, leaders agree that they must promote wellness and foster campus cultures that prioritize wellness as a value. Likewise, work is underway to eliminate the stigma behind mental health issues.

Campuses that are dedicated to student well-being can help increase academic performance, retention, and graduation rates. University students who have a greater sense of well-being and belonging tend to have greater motivation, greater self-confidence, higher levels of engagement and achievement. Likewise, they demonstrate greater cultural awareness, improved critical thinking, higher levels of community service, and are more likely to be sympathetic citizens.

Here are some ways that mental health and wellness programs can propel institutions forward:

– Raising awareness and combating stigma: Leadership can reduce barriers to accessing mental health support facilities, while destigmatizing the need to seek mental health support. Here, integrated peer-to-peer programs and student-led outreach programs can open up conversations to better understand and support learners’ needs. These can also help students empathize with each other, value sharing similar experiences, and raise awareness of available mental health resources.

– Create and design a culture of well-being: Institutions should hire more counselors to address student mental health crisis. Organizations like NASPA recommend upstream solutions, including curricula that focus on resilience, stress management, and other behavioral challenges. These can help prevent problems downstream. Student Wellness Centers at Wake Forest University and Ohio State University have developed models that ensure student wellness on multiple levels, including emotional, physical, social, intellectual, and financial dimensions.

– Digital mental health services: Technology solutions, such as smartphone apps, make advisors more accessible. With these, students can reach out and are more likely to ask for help.

– Personalization and belonging: Surveys have shown that students view online communities as critical to mental health and coping needs during the pandemic. Nearly 30% said online communities create a sense of belonging to their institution, while 25% said online communities promote their well-being. Students note that receiving personalized communication shows that their institutions cared about their success.

– Conduct ongoing surveys and assessments: Mental health support staff and faculty should be provided with platforms to conduct wellness checks online. Simple questionnaires emailed to students can help the institution determine student stress levels, while learning what’s working, what’s not, and what the way forward should look like.

– Measure success: Technology can also help track data and analytics. Data solutions can foster equity and foster ownership to properly measure the success of campus mental health programs.

UpLink – The World Economic Forum, in partnership with UNICEF and Salesforce, recently launched a challenge calling for innovative solutions that bring mental wellbeing and resilience to all 15-24 year olds around the world.

Watch this short video for more details and submit your innovative idea before April 7 by clicking here.