ACHA Guidelines on Reopening Institutions of Higher Ed During COVID-19 Focus on Mental Health

ACHA Guidelines on Reopening Institutions of Higher Ed During COVID-19 Focus on Mental Health

Rory Kelly
Editorial Contributor

The American College Health Association (ACHA), the leading organization that advises colleges and universities on supporting the health and wellbeing of college students, released a set of guidelines for colleges and universities to consider when planning and implementing reopening strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The considerations covered a number of areas including communication plans, student life and housing, and international travel, in addition to individual’s physical health and public health plans aimed at limiting infection and maintaining valuable learning experiences.

Mental health is a major concern.  Many students are reporting fears related to infection, job prospects, ability to learn as deeply in a remote format as in the classroom. Many also feel a greater sense of isolation and loneliness correlated with the implementation of physical distancing regulations and campus closures. Now and during all stages of institutions’ reopenings, committed and effective care for students, faculty, staff, and community mental health is of the utmost importance.

The authors identified the use of telehealth services as an interim and potential long-term strategy. The pandemic has catalyzed the shift to and investment in digital behavioral health and telehealth in particular. The ACHA suggests that in situations such as crisis counseling, or in settings in which the client does not have reliable access to the internet or necessary technology, services should return to in-person as soon as it is safe. However, the recommendation is that much of the behavioral health support extended to the campus may remain remote temporarily during phased reopening or permanently even after the pandemic.

The ACHA recommends that institutions create a clear policy delineating what types of cases receive in-person vs. remote treatment. Other considerations include implementing an online check-in process and moving drop-in hours to an online format to avoid contact and infection spread. Once in-person interactions are deemed safe and manageable for the institution, the ACHA recommends appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for both clients and clinicians. They also recommend doing check-in sessions with community groups based on residence and/or by academic focus to limit virus spread while also providing people with a sense of community and connection during this complex time.

Finally, the ACHA emphasized care for faculty and staff, not just students, since the students can only be cared for if the faculty and staff are well. In particular, institutions should take care to prevent burnout, provide the time and space for colleagues to debrief and destress, and offer them sufficient mental health support and resources.

The mental health impact of the coronavirus may be more widespread than the virus itself; therefore, providing students, faculty, and staff resources to identify distress, effectively intervene, and make appropriate referrals is essential to communal well being and success as institutions of higher education reopen during the COVID-19 era. 

Christie Campus Health (CCH) can support student behavioral health services through the pandemic, adapting according to university and student needs. CCH can help schools to comply with the guidelines laid out by the ACHA through, for example, our telehealth offerings, 24/7 staffed clinician line, and reporting features.  CCH looks forward to partnering with more colleges and universities invested in the health and wellbeing of their students and overall institutions in the coming reopening phases and beyond.


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