Guidelines Issued to Help Colleges Deal with an “Echo Pandemic” of Student Mental Health Issues when Campuses Reopen This Fall

Guidelines Issued to Help Colleges Deal with an “Echo Pandemic” of   Student Mental Health Issues when Campuses Reopen This Fall

Robert F. Meenan, MD, MPH, MBA
President, Christie Campus Health

Campuses across the country are planning to fully reopen this fall, aiming to once again offer their students the full college experience of in-person classes and robust social lives. While COVID-19 vaccinations have changed the planning scenario in dramatic ways, this fall’s openings will still be very challenging due to an expected “echo pandemic” of mental health problems among college students returning to campus. 

The scope of the mental health crisis among college students has been well documented. Data from the Healthy Minds Study clearly show that college student mental health has been worsening for many years and that this trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic. According to the latest Student Voice survey, a majority of college students report feeling worried, anxious, or scared about life either often or constantly, and two-thirds say their mental health is either fair or poor. College leaders are very aware of the student mental health crisis. The most recent ACE survey of college presidents shows that nearly 70% rank student mental health as their top concern – for the third survey in a row.  

The  American College Health Association recently issued guidelines for reopening campuses this fall, and the document includes a section that specifically addresses student mental health. The preamble to this section states that “There is a clear consensus that there will be a considerable psychological and psychiatric aftermath to this pandemic, resulting in high demand for counseling and psychiatric services when students return in the fall.” 

The ACHA guidelines recommend that colleges and universities anticipate the need for enhanced mental health services and develop plans to support the mental health needs of students returning to 

campus. The specific recommendations include:  

  • Continue diversification of services by providing a menu of service options for students to include virtual, digital, and in-person options. 

  • Focus on in-person and virtual same day appointments and “on demand” counseling options. 

  • Provide options for drop-in counseling. 

  • Create stepped care venues that provide the correct type and level of service based on the student’s presenting needs and functioning.  

  • Focus on normalizing and increasing help-seeking through consistent marketing, timely triage, and improving ease of access. 

  • Enhance gatekeeper strategies. 

  • Provide easy access to behavioral health providers. 

  • Provide opportunities for virtual telehealth sessions. 

Christie Campus Health’s CONNECT@College platform of services can help college counseling centers address each of these recommendations. Our Wellness Hub and meditation resources promote self-care. Our customized campus awareness campaigns can decrease stigma, increase understanding of resources, and educate students about what options might be helpful to them, even if it’s not a session with a licensed clinician. Our 24/7 support line, remote and in-person treatment sessions with licensed providers in the nation’s largest behavioral health network, and psychiatric prescribing clinics can help students get clinical support without long wait times and on their schedules. Our Navigators can facilitate gatekeeper and referral efforts. All of our program components are delivered free of charge to students so they can get mental health support without having to worry about costs. 

Full and partial implementations of the CONNECT@College platform are now ongoing at over 40 campuses in 10 states, supporting counseling center services for over 450,000 students. We are actively discussing with a number of other schools how we can support their student mental health services when they reopen next fall. We are energized by this unique opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the mental health and academic success of our nation’s future leaders. 

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About Christie Campus Health 

At Christie Campus Health, we are dedicated to improving the behavioral health and wellbeing of college students by helping colleges and universities expand the way they reach and support students in need.  Our solution, CONNECT@College, offers a number of integrated components that provide a broad range of self-care and professional treatment options for students with varying behavioral health needs. 

About Dr. Robert Meenan  

Dr. Meenan served as Dean at Boston University School of Public Health from 1992 to 2014 and retired from BU in 2016 as Professor of Health Policy and Management in the School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine. He holds a BA in government from Harvard College, an MD from Boston University School of Medicine, an MPH in Health Administration and Planning from the University of California Berkeley, and an MBA in Health Care Administration from Boston University School of Management.  

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