The Unpredictable Future of Student Mental Health

 The Unpredictable Future of Student Mental Health

Kelly Pease
Editorial Contributor

With all of the chaos that 2020 has brought to higher education this year, it’s no surprise that 56 percent of students say they are very or somewhat anxious about the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent survey. Sixty one percent of students also report that they are concerned about their mental health. So why is there a national trend showing that utilization of college counseling centers is lower than expected this semester?

In a recent article, the Executive Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Oregon State University, Ian Kellems, shared that he too has seen this national trend of a decrease in students using counseling center resources at his school, and he shared an interesting reason why he believes that won’t continue into the future. Kellems said, “We know from mental health data around natural disasters, that it’s usually about a six-month lag between when the disaster hits and people are actually in a place to reach out and access services and since we’re still in the middle of this pandemic, I fully expect that there will be a third mental health wave.” Inside Higher Ed came to a different conclusion, suggesting the trend would continue because it’s based on a gap in what colleges have to offer, a gap in making such services known to students, and a gap in students turning to their college for support when facing challenges related to COVID-19.

No matter which prediction you believe is more likely, if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared for the unexpected. No one knows when schools will be fully in person again or when students will feel comfortable taking classes in person. Each student has a unique personal, family and health situation, and each has his or her own approach to dealing with the risks posed by COVID-19. It’s just not possible to know how many students will need mental health services in future years, what the severity of their problems will be, and to what extent they will look to their schools for  mental health care.

Counseling centers need to develop plans that will allow them to serve the mental health needs of their students across a range of future scenarios. To serve students whether they are attending school in person or online, counseling centers need to provide more services remotely by substantially increasing their tele-therapy capacity. To serve students across a spectrum of issues, schools must provide an array of mental health and counseling options. To serve increasingly diverse student bodies, centers need to expand the size of their referral networks. To be appropriately responsive to students in an increasingly connected world, schools need to provide 24/7 phone access. To help students deal with an increasingly complex system of care, schools need to strengthen their case management efforts. To deal with increasing costs, schools need to make more use of off-campus services that are covered by insurance. To reduce stigma and ensure that more students know about available services, schools need to conduct campus awareness services. All of these approaches will serve both students and schools well whatever the future holds.

The CONNECT@College platform offered by Christie Campus Health was developed to have features that can serve the mental health needs of college students today and into the future. It was designed to wrap around and extend the work of a college counseling center, and that design will be increasingly appropriate across a range of future scenarios. The platform includes a wellness hub, a 24/7 service line, an iCBT program designed specifically for college students, navigator services, and five free visits to off-campus and telehealth counselors. The CONNECT platform comes with     outstanding customer service management, a campus awareness program, and an evaluation plan. It gives counseling centers the flexibility and capacity they’ll need to deliver effective, available, and affordable mental health services whatever the future may hold.

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