The mental health of students in higher education has been a concern even before the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. But the pandemic has brought to the front a clearer correlation between poor mental well-being and academic performance. Some extreme repercussions include higher risks of school dropouts and suicide ideation rates.
The Healthy Minds 2020 Fall Study reiterates these findings. It confirms that the quality of the educational journey of students has been largely compromised by anxiety, mood disorders, and social isolation. It peaked with 83% of students saying they faced academic impairment due to emotional or mental difficulties.
Here is a snapshot of the key results of the HMS report:
So, how do we move forward from here? How do we approach mental wellness that best supports our students’ educational journey?
“Well-being is not a destination. Look for what is not working and redesign it, and so we are in a big and continuous redesign loop.”, says Dr. Teri Pipe from Arizona State University. To address the changing needs of learners today, educational institutes across the country have been streamlining their efforts toward creating more holistic student wellness programs. Making data-backed changes to their policies and campus environments. Some of the most common strategies taken by schools and colleges on this path are:
- Boosting community-led activities – Higher education establishments are now using digital platforms to create a more engaged community on campus. It has propelled more student participation and communication. Using online notice boards, chat messenger apps, and student forums has strengthened campus-wide connectivity. As per the Salesforce report, 28% of students felt their institute’s online communities gave them a sense of belonging during the pandemic. And offering such communication channels helps students overcome their social anxieties and loneliness better.
- Campus programs – Many educators feel that the introduction of a one-credit Personal Health course or Mental Health Skills course into the curriculum can increase awareness among the student population about mental issues, and help mitigate any negativity attached to those seeking support for depression and/or mood disorders. This creates a more empathetic learning environment, making campuses a ‘safe space’ for students.
- Feedback initiatives – Schools and colleges are focusing extensively on data collection to keep tabs on the mental (and emotional) well-being of their students. For this, they are gathering information by conducting regular online polls, mindset surveys, and campus events. They’re also asking students, lecturers, and staff to participate in policy discussions and other campus-related decisions in an attempt to build a sense of belonging for all involved.
- Access to counselors and other resources – Campuses have increased the employment of mental health advisors to make it easier for students to get help. Institute policy-makers have started leveraging student data (collected via polls, surveys, and student-submitted feedback forms). Indicators like a sudden drop in grades or lack of social-event participation are being used to reach out to potentially distressed students. Some common student support methods used by schools and colleges are:
a. Introduction of group meditation or yoga courses to reduce the overall stress quotient on campusesb. Alternate aids provided through reading materials and videos on mental health management for interested students and faculty members
c. Dedicated on-ground spaces for peer meet-ups. This encourages students who need immediate support to get help, and makes campuses a friendlier place for them.
d. Options for telehealth support (paid) to make behavioral therapists more accessible to students
- Tailored outreach programs – School & college leaders across the country have come to accept that students are not just grappling with their mental and emotional struggles; they are facing a far more layered problem that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and understanding. Coronavirus lockdown brought about a need to adapt to the distance education model. This led to isolation and social anxiety disorders. A study confirmed that first-year Black students were hardest hit by mental disorders. Their depression grew by 89% between before-pandemic and four months after it. Cases of depression and anxiety also spiked exponentially among gender minority students. These are the hard facts that educational institutes are still trying to navigate.
Top-level recommendations from The Equity in Mental Health Framework (EMH Framework) for promoting students’ wellbeing are:
- Make identification and promotion of mental health a campus-wide priority for minority students or students of color
- Encourage students to share their mental health problems (and feedback) through peer-guidance engagements
- Emphasis on hiring faculty and staff members who are culturally competent and come from diverse backgrounds. It also helps to actively train existing members on dealing with the needs of minority students.
- Provide students with opportunities for engagements in national and global events
- Assign dedicated roles to support the mental wellness of students of color
- Offer accessible and two-way communication systems with campus administrators
- Promote all programs, campus events, and support services through multiple channels
- Monitor the effectiveness of all culturally relevant programs and practices through data collection
- Engage in information & resource sharing within and between schools
Also read: Mental Health Crisis in Medical Schools & Colleges
It is essential to acknowledge that students use different coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. While their lifestyle habits and coping methods can lessen their distress, the existing on-campus strategies may not be equally effective for students from diverse backgrounds. So, when it comes to the mental well-being of students, schools & colleges should plan their outreach initiatives keeping in mind all ethnicities and gender definitions.
- Personalized communication – It is seen that around 77% of students feel that getting personalized messages made them feel that their college cared about their progress and success. Having regular and personalized communication from colleges boosts students’ morale and motivates them to perform better. To make communication easier, educational institutes have started deploying customizable software solutions to free up their staff from repetitive tasks (emails, text messages, and follow-ups). These tools help college management focus on improving communication formats.
Cocolevio’s LIMS is one such Learner management software that comes with a wellness monitoring module. It is specially designed to meet the unique needs of medical colleges and helps their administrators and decision-makers stay one step ahead of the curve.
To know more about LIMS, please visit www.cocolevio.com/lims or contact our sales rep at (512) 222-5730 for a detailed product demo.