Confronting a mental health crisis on campus
Emphasizing mental health sets students up for success
Some institutions of higher education have had a troubling tendency to see students who become overwhelmed and withdraw from their education as not being “college material.” This mindset of the past is simply wrong, insensitive and not how universities should approach the growing crisis of their students dealing with mental health challenges. We all need to confront the issue, provide the resources needed and do everything we can to lift each other up.
Derailing a degree
For those struggling with their mental health, the consequences of ignoring the issue or brushing it off can range from anxiety and the development of physical health problems, to harming oneself. In the environment of higher education, a consequence can also be stopping out of school, and failing to obtain a degree.
How big is the problem? Roughly half of students who are considering withdrawing from classes for at least a semester cite emotional stress and mental health as the most significant reason, according to the most recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation report on the issue. Among those considering withdrawing, about a third said support from a school counselor or mental health professional helped them remain enrolled.
Ultimately, of those who do end up leaving college and not returning to obtain their degree, 14% say mental health issues were the primary reason, according to a Sallie Mae-Ipsos study. About half of those stopped-out students left during or after their freshman year, indicating a need to reach out to those making the transition to college.
A separate survey from TimelyMD found that 71% of students are experiencing some form of mental illness including stress, anxiety and depression. Of those who sought help, 3 out 4 reported improvements in their mental well-being.
Stopping the stigma
Progress is certainly being made when it comes to the willingness of students to ask for the help they may need. Part of that culture shift may be the result of the dramatically increased need for mental health care among children and teens. Nearly 60% of college students accessed mental health care during their K-12 years, according to a survey from TimelyCare, a virtual health provider for college students.
At Central Michigan University, Executive Director of Counseling Services Melissa Hutchinson says she has noticed the stigma surrounding mental health issues is receding.
“One of the things we know about our students is that seeking help and talking about mental health like they would physical health is far more acceptable today, and they are doing so long before they arrive on our campus,” Hutchinson said.
While there are encouraging signs, the effort to overcome the stigma of addressing mental health issues remains a societal one. CMU’s most recent Griffin Policy Forum brought together experts and advocates to discuss mental health policy in Michigan, including the state’s anti-stigma efforts, legislative policy initiatives, available resources and improving access. The discussion continues, but the fact that there is a focus on stigma at the state level is reason for hope that more people will feel comfortable finding support.
Creating a culture of care
Knowing that addressing mental health challenges is a major factor in the success of our students, and recognizing it as a basic need, CMU continues to approach the issue from several angles, providing support to promote emotional well-being and academic success.
When students make the transition to college, it is commonly accompanied by stress, anxiety or difficulty navigating social relationships. The support that often comes from their family is suddenly not as accessible. The CMU Counseling Center exists to help them through that transition, and through the entire college journey. Students are the focus, which recognizes they all have different goals, barriers, challenges, and strengths. Care is provided in individual or group settings, and always in an open and safe environment.
Outreach to our students to address or prevent mental health issues is another approach CMU encourages. The Office of Student Affairs’ CMU CARES initiative allows students, faculty and staff who are concerned about a student’s mental health to file a report that often results in a connection to support services. Once a report is received, CMU CARES collaborates with the student to identify support options and engage with the resources they choose. Student Affairs also encourages students to take the lead in their mental health with many outreach programs on topics like taking care of sleep schedules, coping with disappointment and dealing with stress.
Specifically for survivors of sexual assault and aggression, CMU is recognizing 25 years of important work by our Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates program. In 1998, and to this day, this group of trained volunteer students has been an invaluable resource for fellow students grappling with the emotions that accompany harmful sexual situations.
For situations that require outpatient mental health services, CMU’s psychology department operates the Psychological Training and Consultation Center. Among the clinics operated by the center is the Trauma and Anxiety Disorders Clinic, providing in-depth psychological assessment, state-of-the-art cognitive-behavioral treatments and referrals when necessary.
Reaching beyond the student body to the greater community, the CMU Center for Children, Families and Communities provides mental health interventions for Michigan families, while also providing instruction to graduate and undergraduate students in the university’s psychology program.
Serving the entire Great Lakes Bay Region, CMU Health provides high-quality psychological services to those experiencing issues including stress, depression, anxiety, trauma and grief. Their mission is to help clients become the best version of themselves while understanding that disruptions in their daily lives can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions or create new difficulties and challenges.
CMU is responding to the mental health issues of students and the community with a culture of caring by creating a non-judgmental environment that encourages students of all backgrounds and identities to seek help.
Healthier minds, better outcomes
CMU will continue to take appropriate action to support mental health on campus, remove the stigma of seeking help and ensure access to care. Connecting students to the resources they may need results in positive outcomes for them, the university community and the world beyond campus.