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5 Things to Do Right Now to Support Students’ Mental Health

By: Aylin Dunham
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The mental health of the general population worsened significantly in 2021, but students were one of the most affected groups. 64% of students are no longer pursuing an education due to their mental health and educators are seeing a drop in college enrollment rates.

Students continue to be challenged by the new ways they’re learning and their more distanced interactions with instructors and their peers. Stay at home guidance led to fewer social opportunities and increased feelings of isolation for remote and hybrid learners.

Educators can look to counteract these challenges by providing effective student support. Arming students with the right resources and technologies, which are often quite easy to implement, can make a dramatic impact on students’ lives.

Here are four strategies to enlist to help students better track and assess their mental and physical health to increase their chances of flourishing both physically and academically.

1. Cut Out Old Mental Health Practices

Prioritizing mental health has gained popularity on social media, but barriers are still common in real life. 18% of students report financial barriers in accessing mental health services and 19% say they don’t have enough time to seek them out.

“Currently, mental health services are mainly provided through a century-old model in which they are made available at times chosen by the mental-health practitioner, rather than at the person’s time of greatest need,” Jonathan Haidt and Nick Allen reported to Nature Briefing. “Devices are facilitating the development of a wave of ‘just-in-time’ interventions for mental health care and support.”

To offer students mental health support that works in today’s climate, the University of Michigan provides free, confidential services to students through its Counseling & Psychological Services Center. It offers resources such as short-term counseling, walk-in services, 24-hour phone support and convenient online screenings. Other schools like the University of Kansas offer similar mental health programs for students and their greater community at little or no cost.

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2. Offer Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs

Today’s students are dealing with a variety of stressors, including their coursework, but also related to family obligations, finances, relationships and work. Educating students and faculty on emotional intelligence can help address these stressors.

For example, schools like the University of Minnesota are offering SEL for students and teachers through extensive workshops and self-paced courses that support emotional learning and well-being. Students who participate in SEL programs have shown better stress and depression management, as well positive attitudes about themselves and their learning.

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology offers a guide for incorporating SEL tactics into the classroom. Suggested activities that foster SEL include goal visualization, writing self-compassion letters and mindful breathing exercises. To keep track of students’ progress, educators can also offer periodic check-ins with students to assess their stress levels and how they feel about their course and the amount of work they receive.

3. Use Communication Tools To Improve Student Focus

75% of students report that they’re struggling with paying attention. Whether learning in-person or online, students are spending long hours studying behind a screen with an array of at home distractions and environmental stressors at play.

“Many students are experiencing challenges maintaining focus and concentration when learning remotely,” said Spencer Kirschner, Verbit’s Customer Success Manager. “With increased access to the right technologies, students can immerse themselves and thrive in a less stressful, more conformable online environment.”

To help students stay engaged with their coursework – plus provide them with greater ease to follow along or reference what was said or missed in lectures – educators can turn to communication tools like captioning and transcription. Many universities have shifted from offering these tools to students with disabilities like hearing loss and are seeing the benefits of offering them to students with ADHD, as well as all students. Displaying captions on screen during Zoom lectures and offering transcripts live keep students more engaged and help them better comprehend and retain information.

Plus, students no longer need to stress if they miss a class if they need to take a mental health day. Schools can partner with companies like Automatic Sync Technologies to offer students word-for-word transcripts so they can easily catch up on what they missed or go back and reference parts of their classes. Transcripts can serve as perfect notes to come in and help students who are dealing with a variety of stressors and who may be distracted.

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4. Provide Online Support Through Telehealth and Teletherapy

Students struggling with their mental health aren’t always comfortable asking for help. They may not be able to easily access or afford in-person counseling. With many students unsure where to turn, education leaders can offer online telehealth services for support.

Students, especially remote and non-traditional learners, greatly benefit from tools like telehealth and teletherapy. 71% of students say they’d use tele-mental health services at their school if they had access to it. Belmont University is one leader that’s using telehealth to effectively support students.

“We’ve really been focusing in the last several years on increasing access to care and decreasing barriers,” Katherine Cornelius, Director of Counseling Services at Belmont University reported to Inside Higher Ed. “Telehealth has been a huge benefit for that. Students don’t have to travel to campus, and we saw a lot of students were really concerned about their health, so they really feel more comfortable doing virtual visits.”

Belmont students are provided with a virtual self-help platform that offers them self-guided tools, interactive modules, and progress trackers for their mental and physical health. Best of all, all Belmont students are given free access to the platform, which they can use on-demand, on their terms.

5. Encourage Use of Mental Health and Wellness Apps

Many institutions are also encouraging students to use health and wellness apps to alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation.

Convenient applications like Calm, Beachbody and Breathe2Relax help students remotely track their workouts and offer meditation and stress management techniques. Many of these applications also offer self-guided experiences and allow students to ask questions and receive suggestions for care 24/7.

Some universities are even creating their own mental health apps for students. For example, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, recognized as a “Health Promoting University,” built the mental health app called B Well. The app offers both students and employees a customized self-care plan, relaxation and mindfulness exercises, as well as daily notifications and video content.

Apps like B Well are providing students’ with an easy way to reduce stress levels. Studies report that mental health apps are shown to enhance skill-building and improve a person’s self-awareness, along with helping reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

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The Takeaway: Invest in Students’ Health Now

Confronting students’ mental and wellness concerns will help schools retain their valued students during these tricker times and well after them. Investing in mental health initiatives will also promote a healthier, happier and more productive student population.

With many universities and colleges still qualifying for emergency relief funds like ARPA, now is the time to invest in technologies that will help students manage their health to increase their chances of making it through their programs to graduation.

AST can serve as a helpful partner to provide the captioning and transcription services mentioned above to help alleviate some of your students’ stress and keep them focused. Reach out to learn more.