Supporting College Student Mental Health Across a Spectrum of Needs: The Stepped Care Approach.

Supporting College Student Mental Health Across a Spectrum of Needs: The Stepped Care Approach.

Amaura Kemmerer, LICSW 
Executive Vice President of Client Engagement 

Data from the Healthy Minds Study, which is an annual, ongoing survey including over 400 campuses, and 400,000 undergraduate and graduate students, shows a continuing trend of worsening mental health among college students. While we hear frequently about an eruption of mental health concerns related to the pandemic, data suggests that the prevalence of mental health problems was rising prior to the pandemic. Coupled with what many clinicians and researchers predict will be a mental health ‘echo pandemic’ in the fall contributing to already high demand, colleges and universities are working to identify ways to provide enough mental health support.  

Despite high demand for counseling services, there can still be a disconnect between the students who could benefit from receiving services and those who seek them. Some students are reluctant to ask for help due to barriers such as: negative perceived value of treatment, perceived stigma, discomfort with emotions, lack of knowledge, access issues, cost, and cultural barriers. College counseling centers are considering options that support a broader population of students, offer approachable entry points for students who may be reluctant to seek traditional mental health services and to provide interventions that appropriately meet the clinical need.  

Many colleges have turned to a stepped care model which offers a holistic menu of services with the goal of matching students to effective but less intensive interventions as a starting point. The student can be “stepped up” to more intensive care if needed. Individual counseling might be indicated for some students struggling with mental health problems but other interventions, such as psychoeducation or group therapy, may be appropriate for others and still be effective. Ideally, students complete a screening/triage intake to determine the level of acuity of their concerns. Based on the results of the screening, mental health professionals review services tailored to that student. Students may be referred to more than one service/option. 

Examples of approaches being used in a stepped care model include: 

  • Access to holistic and comprehensive web-based education about self-care, self-assessment tools, videos and resources on wellness 

  • Meditation programs/apps 

  • Self-guided online coping and emotional management programs  

  • Emotional support AI text programs for students who may need coaching between counseling sessions or be more apt to reach out for anonymous support/use AI 

  • Single session consult/support with a counselor that may alleviate in-the-moment concerns and may include referral to other campus resources (career center, tutoring, financial aid concerns, etc.). 

  • Group psychotherapy or group, skill-building workshops  

  • Individual counseling, psychiatric prescribing, or specialized community treatment  

Christie Campus Health’s CONNECT@College services can help college counseling centers who are looking to build a more holistic menu of wellness options for students. We offer a multi-modal platform of support designed to meet students where they are in their varying mental health needs. Visit our website for more information about Christie Campus Health and its CONNECT@College suite of student mental health and wellness offerings for colleges and universities. 

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