- A peer-led effort at Indiana University designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness on campus correlated with changes in students' attitudes and behaviors, according to a study of the program by researchers from that institution.
- U Bring Change to Mind (UBC2M) included events such as inclusive fashion shows, "de-stress" activities and biweekly club meetings open to the campus community. It was done in partnership with the national nonprofit Bring Change to Mind.
- Surveying students from the class of 2019 as freshmen and again in their junior year, the researchers found a decrease in prejudice and an increase in inclusive behavior, as well as more "positive perceptions of campus mental health culture."
UBC2M hoped to change the campus cultural climate in the short term and to serve as a "pathway to larger cultural change" in the long run, the researchers wrote.
For the latter, they explained, colleges and universities can be leaders. "America's system of higher education, despite its problems and patchwork of institutional types, stands as a likely source of building such a national change network," they explained.
Their review of UBC2M was the first to "systematically survey" a single graduating class over time to gauge their views on mental health in tandem with campus programming designed to influence their attitudes and behavior, Science Daily reported.
Students' mental health is a growing concern among campus leaders. In a recent survey of 400 college presidents by the American Council on Education (ACE), eight in 10 respondents said the issue has become a bigger priority for their institution in the last three years. Around three-fourths said they've reallocated or found additional funding to address it.
Anxiety and depression affect college students at particularly high rates, according to the ACE survey and an annual report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) at Penn State University. Other common issues include stress and family and academic concerns.
For help, more students are turning to campus counseling centers, which in some cases aren't equipped to address the demand. CCMH found students' use of the centers rose 30% to 40% on average from 2009 to 2015, compared to enrollment increases of just 5% during that time.
What's more, research shows that members of the incoming college-age cohort are more likely to report mental health issues and seek professional support than previous generations; students of color are more likely to report stress around issues like debt and housing instability. The researchers examining UBC2M call for more inquiry and anti-stigma work targeting specific racial and ethnic communities.
With this in mind, colleges are taking steps to bolster their mental health services and eliminate the stigma associated with using them. For instance, some institutions are undertaking well-being initiatives to ease demand on counseling centers. This can include meditation sessions, de-stress zones and other activities. Such initiatives can also help implement programming across institutional silos.
To encourage students to use the services, some colleges are centralizing them online and in prominent campus buildings.
Buy-in from a range of campus stakeholders, as well as national organizations where relevant, is critical to such efforts. That was the case for UBC2M, the researchers note.
Broader shifts in social views can also have a catalyzing effect on mental health efforts at colleges and universities. "There can be no better time than now with the Millennial generation's outspoken views, greater tolerance of difference, and energy directed toward making the world a better place," they wrote.