Higher ed leaders are seeing more students come to campus with mental health issues than ever before, and they're looking for guidance on how to best serve these students.
According to USA Today College, the University of Pennsylvania, Tulane University, Appalachian State University and Yale University all made headlines in recent years for suicides on campus. According to national data, one in 12 students has a suicide plan. Despite the fact that students are seeking mental health services in record numbers, there is still a discrepancy between the number of individuals who need the services and those who are getting them. Additional data in the USA Today article says two-thirds of students who are struggling don't seek help.
American Association of State Colleges and Universities Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis Tom Harnisch believes there is an "opportunity for campuses to lead" the conversation on mental health, since there isn't a lot of conversation in legislatures across the country about how to best address these concerns. "Campuses have to step up and discuss this issue, discuss their needs," he said at the Higher Education Government Relations Conference earlier this month, adding, "I haven’t seen, in terms of state-level policy on mental health, any movement yet."
Shannon Gilkey, director of Education Strategy Group, said part of the issue for higher ed is that with cuts to school psychologist/counselor positions at the K-12 level, students are going to campus with traumas and other issues from the previous level which were never addressed.
"Globally, we in K-12 have a hard time with just college admissions counseling in public schools. The traditional role of the school counselor is burdened with such a broad array of responsibilities, they’re over tasked, stretched pretty thin," he said. "If you could just mitigate the issues of mental well-being in our school systems, then you could have a deep impact on how they transition into higher ed and go on to lead more productive lives."
But it is important to recognize it isn't just students who struggle with mental health challenges on campus. Faculty, and even administrators, also face challenges, particularly in the current political climate. And studies show racism and microaggressions towards students, faculty and administrators of color increase the likelihood that they may struggle with mental health challenges.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports African-Americans, in particular, are 20% more likely to struggle with major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, suicide (particularly among young African-American men), and post traumatic stress disorder, in addition to being more likely to be subjected to social conditions which lead to mental illness. But only 25% of affected African-Americans seek help, compared to 40% of their white peers.
For campus leaders, it's important to promote a culture of not just diversity, which speaks to how many people are invited to campus, but total inclusion to ensure all of those on the college campus truly feel they are welcome and valued members of the community. Unfortunately, many of the moves in state houses to protect free speech at all costs threaten this inclusion and contribute to high levels of stress on campus, particularly among students, faculty and administrators of color.
Onus on leadership
"You have to start with this open environment ... this habit of mind of openness, and it also requires some flexibility of thought," she said. "This isn’t a skill to be learned, like a book you can read, but it’s a developmental characteristic built over time."
Claudia Rankins, a program director at the National Science Foundation, said addressing these issues is "first and foremost, I do think it’s the right thing to do, but in order for us as a nation to move forward ... if we don’t call on everyone that’s available, we are going to fall behind."
Particularly in the sciences, and using health sciences as an example, Rankins said, "If not everyone is at the table, not all of the issues are being studied to meet everyone’s needs."
"By including everyone in science and tech, we just have a better product at the end," she said, mentioning the importance of diverse experiences represented in research. "And that’s what the U.S. has been strong in historically, is that we’ve been the innovators. ... That innovative and creative spirit has been part of the ethos of who we are as a country."
Watch: Rogers and Taylor discuss the importance of a diverse STEM pipeline, the role of HBCUs in producing diverse graduates, and the work of Fielding Graduate University to tie the pieces together.