When we think about essential basic needs support services, we often think first about housing, food, and transportation. However, mental wellness is fast becoming a priority focus, and institutions that prioritize it are seeing positive results.
There’s a documented need for mental health support services in colleges and universities. A 2021 Student Voice survey found that 65 percent of students reported having fair or poor mental health, but only 15 percent had participated in college-offered counseling in 2021. 47 percent said they could have used more support from their college in 2021. While many of these survey responses were likely influenced by the pandemic, additional Inside Higher Ed reporting offers solutions that can be provided anytime:
Making aid programs accessible and stress-free is the most effective way to make students aware of them and willing to access them. UC Davis provides easy-to-access wellness resources for students, including a new Student Health and Wellness Center with traditional mental health services, as well as a Mind Spa where students can relax and de-stress.
Drexel University takes a proactive approach to student wellness, combining classic mental health programs with digital services like mental health chatbots and online mental health screenings, as well as a state of the art recreation center.
Universities that dedicate resources to mental wellness are more likely to create a community that is better prepared to cope with challenging situations, should they arise. As with other basic needs services, schools can expand their resources by partnering with community organizations. And, of course, that relationship often works the other way: Universities provide mental health support services to the community, including K-12 public schools.
Monitoring students’ needs, access to supports, and use of supports provides valuable data. The University of Wisconsin System’s Counseling Impact Assessment report for 2021-2022 found that over 80% of students who sought mental health counseling at their universities reported improved well-being. Over 18,000 students reported staying enrolled after counseling over the past eight years. University mental health services benefit students, communities, and taxpayers.
Make students aware of available supports
It’s important that universities provide students with information about existing mental wellness services during enrollment and when classes start, so they feel empowered to seek help as soon as they need it. UC Davis and Drexel University have appealing websites that make it simple to access wellness information and services. Statements of care on class syllabi are another reaffirming way for faculty members to provide information to students and create a culture of caring.
It’s also helpful to identify and target outreach to students who may be eligible for benefits before they need them. Research conducted at Colorado State University and published in 2021 indicated that targeted mental health outreach to students of color was beneficial.
It’s important for universities to recognize that mental wellness is a basic needs support as critical as housing, food, and transportation. Schools who are prioritizing mental wellness supports have reported increased student retention and other positive outcomes. It’s our hope that other universities will follow suit.