College Health and Mental Health Experts Talk Trends and Approaches to Better Support Students at the 2022 NASPA Strategies Conference

College Health and Mental Health Experts Talk Trends and Approaches to Better Support Students at the 2022 NASPA Strategies Conference

Christie Campus Health was pleased to moderate a panel presentation during the 2022 NASPA Strategies Conference on January 13th in Boston, Massachusetts. Amaura Kemmerer, EVP for Client Engagement, facilitated the program "When Demand Rises and Supply Falls: New Challenges in Meeting Student Mental Health Needs," featuring  Dr. Christine Civiletto, Ph.D., Interim Executive Director, University Health and Counseling Services, Northeastern University; Jennifer Howes, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Wellness, Caltech; Judy Platt, M.D., Chief Health Officer and Executive Director of Student Health Services, Boston University and Kristina A. Stevens, LCSW, Director of Mental Health, University of Connecticut. Panelists spoke about trends in mental health prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, how their institutions have been working to meet the student need and what results they have seen from their efforts. Here were some of the key observations and strategies that were presented:

Key Observations:

  • Campus counseling services experienced a significant increase in demand for services this fall with reports of as much of a 50% or more increase in referrals, beyond what staff expected
    • Utilization of crisis support increased
    • Student hospitalizations increased
  • Counseling staff continue to report high levels of burnout
  • Adding clinical staff and case managers relieves some of the burden but it continues to be difficult to recruit and maintain adequate staffing levels
  • This fall, many counseling centers returned to a baseline of in-person care while continuing to offer virtual support. There was a notable increase in students who preferred to be seen in-person as that has been re-introduced as an option
  • Introducing an online booking system for mental health assessments at the request of students led to a surprising increase in wait times and a substantial increase in ‘no show rates’ as student concerns likely resolved over the days they were waiting for the assessment
  • While the shift to virtual learning and support resulted in many challenges for students, it also opened access for students who may have not been comfortable walking into a room or attending events in person. Offering virtual training/support/education has increased attendance and engagement for some populations of students
  • The landscape of college student mental health can feel like a roller coaster experience. Clinical staff are working hard to meet students’ needs, but the target often shifts due to increased student awareness, changing expectations, and what is happening at a societal level

Strategies:

  • Offering a variety of modalities and access points for student mental health and wellness support is critical
  • Group support and skill-building workshops can be an important clinical offering. Groups focused on student identity (e.g.: LGBTQA, Black, Asian, graduate students) as well as groups focused on topics related to current social trends (e.g.: quarantine substance use trends, how to be with a partner during the pandemic, skill building groups to relieve stress) may increase student engagement and participation
  • Dedicated hours and/or a process for rapid access triage can relieve wait times. Having multiple clinicians available to triage during these hours can help connect students more quickly to the appropriate level of care
  • Clinicians solely devoted to triage may not only help to reduce wait time for students but also be a strategy to better support the full-time counseling staff who were previously juggling the demands of triage plus high caseloads
  • Dedicated clinicians are being deployed to support the mental health needs of students in quarantine/isolation due to COVID-19
  • Partnering with outside companies can supplement mental health and wellness services and reduce the strain on campus staff by reaching more students with a variety of modalities as well as eliminating licensure issues related to providing telehealth therapy across state lines
  • Coalitions/task forces that include students, faculty and staff are important system level strategies to increase the visibility of student well-being and to shift the responsibility from counseling centers to the broader community
  • Creating mental health and wellness guides/training opportunities for faculty and staff can better equip those on the front lines to have effective conversations with students about mental health and refer them to resources
  • Training staff and faculty as first responders in mental health emergencies is a priority as some schools are shifting away from law enforcement being the first responders
  • Programming efforts to promote student well-being include a focus on resilience and coping skills

Christie Campus Health’s CONNECT@College offerings can help colleges and universities that are looking to respond to the increasing demand for more mental health and wellness services of more types. We strive to complement and expand the work already being done by campus counseling centers. While serving students is the core of the CCH approach, we also strive to partner with and support counseling center staff through special benefits like quarterly webinars with continuing education credit.

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