Supporting College Students as they Navigate the Mental Health System

Supporting College Students as they Navigate the Mental Health System

The college years are a time when students enjoy more freedom than in high school, while also having to handle more responsibilities. These responsibilities range from the mundane, like learning how to do laundry and deciding what to eat for dinner, to the more significant, such as choosing a major, deciding on a career path, and navigating the health care system, including mental healthcare. Students often require support on decisions big and small. Without that support, many of them will falter—and while laundry mistakes can probably be laughed off, failing to successfully navigate the mental healthcare system can have more dire consequences.

Understanding and accessing the mental healthcare system is challenging for people of all ages and backgrounds. From provider shortages, to understanding health insurance vocabulary and coverage, to stigma, many barriers exist to accessing mental health care. College students, despite often having access to a counseling center, are not excluded from facing these barriers. While many students remain on their parents’ insurance during college and graduate school, others sign up for their schools’ plan, are covered by a combination of a school plan and a family plan, or are uninsured. 

Universities have a range of quality and quantity of mental health resources. While some schools have no licensed clinicians on campus, others have very well-resourced counseling centers with dozens of clinicians. Regardless of how many mental health resources a campus has, one thing is for certain—students will need more mental healthcare than the school can offer. Even on the most well-resourced campuses, some students need or prefer to only take advantage of off-campus resources and providers, for reasons including needing specialty care, stigma about using on-campus services, or desiring the stability of longer-term services than the counseling center can offer. 

When students need or want to go off-campus, they may be on their own. Faculty and staff, including residential life staff and counseling center staff, try to help students find providers and on-campus resources. While they want to help, time constraints may result in students simply being given lists of local providers—with no assurance that they’ll ever follow up on that list. Students may intend to reach out but never end up doing so, or they may reach out only to be stymied by providers who don’t call them back or don’t have openings. They may also have trouble understanding how they can use their insurance to pay for mental healthcare. 

Christie Campus Health Navigators can help both students and counseling center staff by spending as much time as each individual student needs to find resources, follow up, and ultimately help them access mental health resources and initiate treatment. Navigators are care coordinators who provide students with referrals to providers, programs, and resources based on factors that are important to them, including location, language, clinical specialty, and insurance coverage. Navigators then follow up with students who have been referred to off-campus resources to ensure they have received or are in the process of receiving care. They can also help students understand their insurance. Navigators’ interactions with students are then communicated back to the counseling center on a daily basis, to keep them informed about what happens to every student who required a Navigator’s help.

With counseling center staff becoming more and more burdened,  utilizing Navigators is a dependable and cost-effective way to ensure that more students are able to get the mental health treatment that they need. Contact if you’d like to learn more about how Navigators can help your students and counselors on campus.

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